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What does a successful law school application essay look like? Look no further. Below you’ll find five real-world examples from some of the students admitted to New England Law | Boston’s fall 2019 entering class.
Though the subjects vary widely, these personal statements all work for similar reasons:
- They exemplify the passion and determination it takes to succeed in law school.
- They illustrate the reasons why a legal education is an essential next step in their careers.
- They display an understanding of the law school’s values and sincere interest in attending.
- They tell an attention-grabbing yet relevant story.
Check out the personal statement examples below to get inspired, and be sure to read our advice for writing an outstanding law school application essay of your own.
Empowering others through intellectual property law
Maria A. D. RePass Hometown: Leominster, Massachusetts Undergrad school: Worcester Polytechnic Institute Grad school : Tufts University, PhD
As my PhD training was drawing to a close, I found myself unsure of what my path forward would be.
When I started the program, my path was clear—I wanted to work in biotech and someday hopefully lead a research group helping to shape the research portfolio of the company. While I enjoyed the rigors of scientific research, I began to realize that I enjoyed the communication aspects as well. While some of my classmates dreaded their annual research presentations, I looked forward to the opportunity to present my work to others, whether it was an oral presentation before a group of my peers or in writing. At the same time, I knew I did not want to leave science behind and transition into a purely business or administrative role within a company. This, combined with my educational and professional experiences, make me eager to embrace the challenge of pursuing a legal education.
I consider myself to be a life-long learner and am the type of person who thrives when challenged, a problem solver who enjoys working through puzzles in order to arrive at the ideal solution. I knew that I needed to find a role in which I could stay up-to-date with the latest scientific discoveries, while continuing to challenge myself intellectually on a daily basis. I began to look for a way to fulfill my love of science and personal interaction in my career. After talking to several program alumni, friends, and colleagues in the scientific field, I took a leap of faith and jumped into a role as a technology specialist at an intellectual property law firm. I am so very glad that I did, as this role has provided me with the balance of science and communication that I was seeking.
Related: View other law school application requirements
Simply reading what is presented and accepting it at face value often leads to overlooking important details and subtle nuances. I find myself applying these basic tenants of my scientific training in my role as a technology specialist. Life science research is a very competitive field, and the ability to secure a patent for a client often comes down to very small yet important details and nuances that separate their work from that of the prior art.
I know that I would thrive as a student at New England Law as part of a small community of students who are not in competition, looking to outshine their peers, but rather will look to be a team player and help one another through the rigors of law school. I have been fortunate to have attended institutions that encouraged open discourse between students and faculty, and that stressed the importance of teamwork for both my undergraduate and graduate training. I look forward to the opportunity to take the next step in my career and to study law under the direction of the school’s dedicated professors.
An unconventional career change
Nicole Davies Hometown: Manhattan, Kansas Undergrad school : Kansas State University Grad school : Southern New Hampshire University, MA
It was a hot summer afternoon and I had just finished setting up the local farmer’s market when the call came. The phone buzzed in my back pocket, like it has thousands of times before, but this was different. It was my boss, the hospital’s CEO, and what happened next changed everything for me.
In the midst of the chaos, with vendors unpacking their goods and waiting for the surge of customers in the hospital’s parking lot, my only thought was, “Oh, boy. What does he need?” He knew not to call me on market days, so this had to be urgent. All he told me was to come to his office immediately. I knew something was horribly wrong.
As I quickly moved through the blistering Kansas heat, I hustled up to his executive suite and plopped down on a cushy, leather seat. I took a deep breath, trying not to pant like a dog, and regained my composure before he told me the earth-shattering news. The hospital’s most profitable surgeon had been arrested for allegations of sexual misconduct with a male minor.
These things don’t ever happen here, not at a mid-size rural hospital like ours. I saw the look of despair of the CEO after a call with the hospital’s attorney, but as the director of public relations, I didn’t skip a beat and immediately went into triage mode.
The attorney and I assessed the situation, listed the facts we knew at the time, and formulated a solid plan to move forward. We created scripts internally for employees, press releases, and memos for the Board of Trustees and medical staff to follow in both the short and long term. It was a terrible situation, but I was able to navigate and lead smoothly through this crisis.
Throughout the last ten years, I’ve fine-tuned my talents and passions for negotiating deals, writing contracts, and advising top leaders of various organizations on critical issues. In that frantic moment of the hospital’s biggest crises ever, I was positioned as the co-pilot to our counsel, and an air of confidence blanketed my thoughts and actions. I had been called to the CEO’s office on serious matters before, but it was on this day I realized how comfortable and at home I felt in this role.
That’s when it finally clicked. Legal counsel and advocacy, particularly in health care, is my true calling.
My journey to decide to go into law was obviously an unconventional one. I do not come from a long line of college graduates in my family. In fact, I am the first in my immediate family to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and now I’m looking to pursue a Juris Doctor degree. I haven’t always been a “straight-A” student, and I am not the greatest test taker, but that has never deterred me. I’m a creative problem solver, a hard worker, and I have always found a way to succeed.
Related: Everything You Need to Consider in a Law School
Eager for the next challenge
Dina Megretskaia Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Russia Undergrad school : Carnegie Mellon University Grad school : University of Pennsylvania, MA
In sixth grade English, alongside reading Ray Bradbury’s short stories and learning that (according to Mark Twain), “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is…the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning,” my class contemplated the notion that knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss. I knew straight away, with the invisible shiver of a lightning spike through my vertebrae, that I wanted both knowledge and power—and that my life would be a thrilling, focused journey of acquiring both.
In my current profession, financial planning, I optimize my clients’ financial lives so that their whole lives can be better. I relish building my own knowledge base as I tackle esoteric pension plan provisions and subsections of our tax code, but most of all revel in the empowerment that my work creates for my clients. I intend to bring such clarity and compassion for my clients to my studies at New England Law and eventual practice as an attorney.
This need for knowledge brought me to a sawdust-strewn shop room at a local community college on Tuesday and Wednesday nights this fall for a Basic Residential Carpentry Class. I’d return home in the first weeks with a mountain range of blisters along my index finger, the product of my carelessness in holding a hammer (and blatant disregard for basic rules of physics) multiplied by the excitement of hitting hard against wood planks to create our little house. Every week I felt uncoordinated, ungainly, and stronger than I’d been just days earlier. I was gaining knowledge and experience in a trade that was entirely foreign when I’d begun the class. We installed subfloor on our floor framing, framed exterior walls, put up and spackled drywall, installed a door and window, adorned both with trim, and finished it all off with baseboards and crown molding. I was seeking (and found) a challenge, practical carpentry skills, and the euphoria of transforming from a state of ignorance to one of engagement.
Smashing a staple gun in rapid succession along a Tyvek polyethylene house-wrap, driving nails into wooden studs that were synonymous with our house’s structure, and steadying the might of a power saw to cut planks precisely: these all felt like expressions of power. Power I hadn’t initially possessed but built up as I felt the silent sting of being graceless and slow, watched my classmates and instructor, asked questions and modeled my technique after theirs. That uncomfortable place where earnest attempts at learning meet with the inability to produce something beautiful, in the language of the new knowledge area, is where I find power.
Related: How to Be Smart About Law School Financial Aid: 12 Tips You Need to Know
Breaking down new barriers
Rebecca Boll Hometown: Buffalo, New York Undergrad school : Boston University Grad school : University of Oklahoma, MA
The reader of my law school application will see that I am in the middle of my life. I already have a career that I am proud of. Recently, I accepted the role of Chief Technology Officer/VP of Strategy for a new company. This change happened after spending thirteen years at the General Electric Corporation, holding titles such as CTO, Managing Director, General Manager, and Commercial Leader. There are still not many women in my line of work, and that has been true for my entire journey through corporate America and, before that, my time in the military.
One of the things that encourages me to press forward in the industrial working world is that doing so enables me to mentor, sponsor, and support diversity of all kinds: for women and all others. I hire with diversity in mind, ensure that the introverted and outsiders have a voice, create informal support groups, provide insights to others regarding moving up the “ladder,” fight to see the non-traditional candidates get the promotion, and accept collateral duties leading diversity agendas within my companies.
At this point in my life, I am old enough to know that this sponsorship of diversity and deep desire to help the less advantaged are more important to me than the quarterly profits. This insight culminates from almost thirty years of personal experience, enhanced by some of the painful issues being played out in current day society. In my personal experience, I was the first woman commander of my ROTC detachment. Not everyone approved of that, including some of the notable teaching staff at Boston University. My first squadron commander on active duty told me he did not believe women should be in the military. Oddly, he and I got along just fine. It was the people that didn’t say it out loud but acted with malice that made life tricky at times. For example, they would withhold information regarding key training missions, making it difficult to accomplish them and proving their “point” that women were not fit for the combat roles. The sexual harassment in my military years was ever-present and aggressive. I have not personally experienced harassment in corporate America in that same manner, but I regularly deal with the quieter discriminations of being a woman. It is not amusing when someone at a corporate function assumes I am the event coordinator or the head of HR, rather than a key business and technology leader.
I often see an underlying set of activities that make it hard for women or other non-mainstream persons to get the same chances as the majority. For example, one year a co-manager told me that no women who went on maternity leave could get a top performance rating. I fought that battle with him (in partnership with HR), and we changed his mind. Another example was a long-used personnel rating system we consulted to choose who were top and bottom employees in the annual cycle. It clearly favored people who spoke out a lot in meetings and other venues. There are some cultural norms and personality types that do not align with the idea of talking all the time just to be heard and seen, and that decades old system accidentally pushed them aside. A final example is the odd assumption by many people that military veterans have a limited set of skills, aligned to security or plant management.
My interest in helping women, families, and the disadvantaged has been building over some years in relation to my own interactions with family courts as well. I am a woman who is successful in business and life, yet I know how intimidating dealing with a hostile lawyer and unknown legal process can be. I have seen what the result can be when a lawyer is not working as hard as they can or perhaps is just not as good as the other lawyer. I cannot imagine being in the shoes of someone who does not have resources or is disenfranchised—an immigrant, a child, or someone who has been abused—and has to deal with the courts. I was frightened and confused inside the court room. I think they must be as well.
A big part of my interest in law school is my concern for people who don’t have advantages and need help navigating the legal systems. I can easily have another career that spans decades, carry the wisdom of my personal experiences into it, and practice law with the primary goal of helping people. It would make sense for me to consider intellectual property law, given my current and previous roles in business, but what I really want to learn about and apply is family, youth, and social justice law.
The prompts for the personal statement suggest talking about overcoming obstacles. One final thing I want to share is that I grew up on a farm in western New York. We had cows, chickens, horses, and goats. We spent the last week of every August at the county fair. I competed for and won an ROTC scholarship that paid for my undergraduate degree at Boston University. In reviewing that transcript, which is twenty-six years old at this point, I can reflect on a girl who struggled there in the very first semester. This was not because the academics were too hard but because I was so taken in by the city and the diversity of people and the cosmopolitan feel of it. I did not know how to handle being on my own and succeeding back in 1989. It makes me cringe a little seeing those first semester grades, but I can be proud of ending my undergraduate studies on the Dean’s list senior year. My course of study in applied mathematics was not an easy one, but it has served me well in my various technology leadership roles.
My master’s degree, which I achieved at the University of Oklahoma while on active duty, tells a much nicer academic tale with a 4.0 average as an outcome. I would be honored if you consider me for acceptance to New England Law | Boston and look forward to the journey of studying and applying law.
After you've read these law school personal statement examples, be sure to check out our personal statement tips for law school applicants .
15 Law School Personal Statement Examples in
Article Contents 37 min read
This blog contains law school personal statement examples written by applicants who were successfully accepted to multiple law schools after working with our admissions experts as part of our application review programs . Your law school personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application and is your best opportunity to show admissions officers who you are behind your numbers and third-party assessments. Because of its importance, many students find the personal statement to be daunting and demanding of the full scope of their skills as writers. Today we're going to review these excellent law school personal statement examples from past successful applicants and provide some proven strategies from a former admissions officer that can help you prepare your own stellar essay.
Note : If you want us to help you with your applications, interviews and/or standardized tests, book a free strategy call . If you are a university, business, or student organization representative and want to partner with us, visit our partnerships page .
Law School Personal Statements: More Than Just Following Directions
Students are always asking how to write a personal statement for law school, particularly one that stands out from all the rest. After all, advice from most universities can often be quite vague. Take this zinger from the University of Chicago : “Write about something personal, relevant, and completely individual to you… Just be yourself.” For motivated students with the world at their fingertips, it’s a tough ask to narrow your character down into a few hundred words! But this is exactly the point of such generic guidelines—to challenge aspiring law students to produce something unique and convincing with minimal direction by the university. Law is, after all, a profession that demands your language to be persuasive, and the personal statement is merely one of many exercises where you can demonstrate your language skills.
While the law school personal statement is about far more than just following essay directions, you still need to keep basic formatting and length restrictions in mind. Most law schools ask for a 2-page personal statement, but lengths can range from 2-4 pages. Georgetown, for instance, recommends a 2-page personal statement but explicitly states that there is no official minimum or maximum. In general, length does not make a personal statement better. Rambling, meandering sentences and tiresome descriptions will only hurt the impact of your ideas, especially considering how many thousands of pages admissions committees have to churn through each year.
It focuses on just one theme: justice for immigrants. Each paragraph is designed to show off how enthusiastic the student is about this area of law. Personal statements—including those for law school—often begin with a personal anecdote. This one is short, memorable, and relevant. It establishes the overall theme quickly. By constraining their essay’s focus to a single general theme, the writer can go into great depth and weave in emotional and psychological weight through careful and vivid description. The personal statement isn’t a standard 3-paragraph college essay with a spotlight thesis statement, but it conveys similar impact through presenting a central focus organically, without resorting to simply blurting out “the point” of the piece.
Connected to this, this statement focuses on showing rather than telling. Rather than simply telling the reader about their commitment to law, the applicant describes specific situations they were involved in that demonstrate their commitment to law. “Show don’t tell” means you want to paint a vivid picture of actions or experiences that demonstrate a given quality or skill, and not simply say "I can do X." Make it an experience for your reader, don't just give them a fact.
In my home community, the belief is that the law is against us. The law oppresses and victimizes. I must admit that as a child and young person I had this opinion based on my environment and the conversations around me. I did not understand that the law could be a vehicle for social change, and I certainly did not imagine I had the ability and talents to be a voice for this change. I regularly attended my high school classes because I enjoyed the discussions and reading for English and history, and writing came easily to me, but I wasn’t committed to getting good grades because I felt I had no purpose. My mindset changed as I spent time with Mark Russell, a law student who agreed to mentor and tutor me as part of a “high school to law school” mentorship program. Every week, for three years, Mark and I would meet. At first, Mark tutored me, but I quickly became an “A” student, not only because of the tutoring, but because my ambitions were uncorked by what Mark shared with me about university, the law, and his life. I learned grades were the currency I needed to succeed. I attended mock trials, court hearings, and law lectures with Mark and developed a fresh understanding of the law that piqued an interest in law school. My outlook has changed because my mentor, my teachers, and my self-advocacy facilitated my growth. Still, injustices do occur. The difference is that I now believe the law can be an instrument for social change, but voices like mine must give direction to policy and resources in order to fight those injustices.
Early in my mentorship, I realized it was necessary to be “in the world” differently if I were to truly consider a law career. With Mark’s help and the support of my high school teachers, I learned to advocate for myself and explore opportunities that would expand my worldview as well as my academic skills. I joined a Model UN club at a neighboring high school, because my own school did not have enough student interest to have a club. By discussing global issues and writing decisions, I began to feel powerful and confident with my ability to gather evidence and make meaningful decisions about real global issues. As I built my leadership, writing, and public speaking skills, I noticed a rift developing with some of my friends. I wanted them to begin to think about larger systemic issues outside of our immediate experience, as I was learning to, and to build confidence in new ways. I petitioned my school to start a Model UN and recruited enough students to populate the club. My friends did not join the club as I’d hoped, but before I graduated, we had 2 successful years with the students who did join. I began to understand that I cannot force change based on my own mandate, but I must listen attentively to the needs and desires of others in order to support them as they require.
While I learned to advocate for myself throughout high school, I also learned to advocate for others. My neighbors, knowing my desire to be a lawyer, would often ask me to advocate on their behalf with small grievances. I would make phone calls, stand in line with them at government offices, and deal with difficult landlords. A woman, Elsa, asked me to review her rental agreement to help her understand why her landlord had rented it to someone else, rather than renewing her lease. I scoured the rental agreement, highlighted questionable sections, read the Residential Tenancies Act, and developed a strategy for approaching the landlord. Elsa and I sat down with the landlord and, upon seeing my binder complete with indices, he quickly conceded before I could even speak. That day, I understood evidence is the way to justice. My interest in justice grew, and while in university, I sought experiences to solidify my decision to pursue law.
Last summer, I had the good fortune to work as a summer intern in the Crown Attorney’s Office responsible for criminal trial prosecutions. As the only pre-law intern, I was given tasks such as reviewing court tapes, verifying documents, and creating a binder with indices. I often went to court with the prosecutors where I learned a great deal about legal proceedings, and was at times horrified by human behavior. This made the atmosphere in the Crown Attorney’s office even more surprising. I worked with happy and passionate lawyers whose motivations were pubic service, the safety and well-being of communities, and justice. The moment I realized justice was their true objective, not the number of convictions, was the moment I decided to become a lawyer.
I broke from the belief systems I was born into. I did this through education, mentorship, and self-advocacy. There is sadness because in this transition I left people behind, especially as I entered university. However, I am devoted to my home community. I understand the barriers that stand between youth and their success. As a law student, I will mentor as I was mentored, and as a lawyer, I will be a voice for change.
Although the applicant expressed initial reservations about the law generally, the statement tells a compelling story of how the applicant's opinions began to shift and their interest in law began. They use real examples and show how that initial interest, once seeded, grew into dedication and passion. The statement, therefore, shows adaptability—receptiveness to new information and the ability to change both thought and behavior based on this new information. The writer describes realizing that they needed to be "in the world" differently! It's hard to convey such a grandiose idea without sounding cliché, but through their captivating and chronological narrative, the writer successfully convinces the reader that this is the case with copious examples. It’s a fantastic case of showing rather than telling, describing specific causes they were involved with which demonstrate that the applicant is genuinely committed to a career in the law.
This law school personal statement also discusses weighty, relatable challenges that they faced, such as the applicant's original feeling toward law, and the fact that they lost some friends along the way. However, the applicant shows determination to move past these hurdles without self-pity or other forms of navel-gazing. Additionally, this personal statement ends with a conclusion that alludes to why the applicant is suitable for the specific school to which they’re applying and points to their future career plans. The writer manages to craft an extremely immersive and believable story about their path to the present, while also managing to curate the details of this narrative to fit the specific values and mission of the school to which they’re applying.
Check out our video discussing other Law School Personal Statement examples here:
Law School Personal Statement #3
Click here to read this example.
What’s Great About This Third Law School Personal Statement?
This writer opens with rich, vivid description and seamlessly guides the reader into a compelling first-person narrative. Using punchy, attention-grabbing descriptions like these make events immersive, placing readers in the writer's shoes and creating a sense of immediacy.
They also do a fantastic job of talking about their achievements, such as interview team lead, program design, etc., without simply bragging. Instead, they deliver this information within a cohesive narrative that includes details, anecdotes, and information that shows their perspective in a natural way. Lastly, they invoke their passion for law with humility, discussing their momentary setbacks and frustrations as ultimately positive experiences leading to further growth.
Law School Personal Statement #4
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What’s Great About This Fourth Law School Personal Statement?
Like the third example above, this fourth law school personal statement opens with engaging description and first-person narrative. However, the writer of this personal statement chooses to engage a traumatic aspect of their childhood and discuss how this adversity led them to develop their desire to pursue a career in law.
Overcoming adversity is a frequent theme in personal statements for all specialties, but with law school personal statements students are often able to utilize uniquely dramatic, difficult, and pivotal experiences that involved interacting with the law. It may be hard to discuss such emotionally weighty experiences in a short letter but, as this personal statement shows, with care and focus it's possible to sincerely demonstrate how your early struggles paved the way for you to become the person you are now. It's important to avoid sensationalism, but you shouldn't shy away from opening up to your readers about adverse experiences that have ultimately pointed you in a positive direction.
Law School Personal Statement #5
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What’s Great About This Fifth Law School Personal Statement?
This writer does a fantastic job of incorporating their accomplishments and impact they had on their community without any sense of bragging or conceit. Rather, these accomplishments are related in terms of deep personal investment and a general drive to have a positive impact on those around them—without resorting to the cliches of simply stating "I want to help people." They show themselves helping others, and how these early experiences of doing so are a fundamental part of their drive to succeed with a career in law.
Additionally, they do a great job of explaining the uniqueness of their identity. The writer doesn't simply list their personal/cultural characteristics, but contextualizes them to show how they've shaped their path to law school. Being the child of a Buddhist mother and a Hindu father doesn’t imply anything about a person’s ability to study/practice law on its own, but explaining how this unique aspect of their childhood encouraged a passion for “discussion, active debate, and compromise” is profoundly meaningful to an admissions panel. Being able to express how fundamental aspects of law practice are an integral part of yourself is a hugely helpful tactic in a law school personal statement.
If you’re heading North of the border, check out list of law schools in Canada that includes requirements and stats on acceptance.
Law School Personal Statement #6
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What’s Great About This Sixth Law School Personal Statement?
Similar to the writer of personal statement #5, this student utilizes the cultural uniqueness of their childhood to show how their path to law school was both deeply personal and rooted in ideas pervasive in their early years. Unlike the writer of statement #5, this student doesn't shy away from explaining how this distinctiveness was often a source of alienation and difficulty. Yet this adversity is, as they note, ultimately what helped them be an adaptable and driven student, with a clear desire to make a positive impact on the kinds of situations that they witnessed affect their parents.
This writer also doesn't shy away from describing their temporary setbacks as both learning experiences and, crucially, springboards for positively informing their plans for the future.
Are you preparing for the LSAT?
Click here to read this example.
What’s Great About This Seventh Law School Personal Statement?
One of the hardest things to accomplish in a personal statement is describing not just early setbacks that are out of your control but early mistakes for which you must take responsibility. The writer of this personal statement opens with descriptions of characteristics that most law schools would find problematic at best. But at the end of this introduction, they successfully utilize an epiphany, a game-changing moment in which they saw something beyond their early pathological aimlessness, to clearly mark the point at which they became focused on law.
They clearly describe the path forward from this moment on, showing how they remained focused on earning a law degree, and how they were able to work through successive experiences of confusion to persist in finishing their undergraduate education at a prestigious university. Of course, you shouldn't brag about such things for their own sake, but this writer makes the point of opening up about the unique feelings of inadequacy that come along with being the first person in their family to attend such a school, and how these feelings were—like their initial aimlessness—mobilized in service of their goal and the well-being of others. Their statement balances discussion of achievement with humility, which is a difficult but impactful tactic when done well.
Law School Personal Statement #8
What’s great about this eighth law school personal statement .
Commitment to one’s community is a prized value in both law students and law professionals. This writer successfully describes not only how they navigated the challenges in their group environments, such as their internship, the debate team, etc., but how these challenges strengthened their commitment to being a positive part of their communities. They don’t simply describe the skills and lessons they learned from these challenging environments, but also how these challenges ultimately made them even more committed to and appreciative of these kinds of dynamic, evolutionary settings.
They also avoid placing blame or negatively describing the people in these situations, instead choosing to characterize inherent difficulties in terms neutral to the people around them. In this way, you can describe extremely challenging environments without coming off as resentful, and identify difficulties without being accusatory or, worse yet, accidentally or indirectly seeming like part of the problem. This writer manages to convey the difficulty and complexity of these experiences while continually returning to their positive long-term impact, and though you shouldn’t seek to “bright-side” the troubles in your life you should absolutely point out how these experiences have made you a more capable and mature student.
Law School Personal Statement #9
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What’s Great About This Ninth Law School Personal Statement?
Expressing privilege as adversity is something that very few students should even attempt, and fewer still can actually pull it off. But the writer of this personal statement does just that in their second paragraph, describing how the ease and comfort of their upbringing could have been a source of laziness or detachment, and often is for particularly well-off students, but instead served as a basis for their ongoing commitment to addressing the inequalities and difficulties of those less comfortable. Describing how you’ve developed into an empathic and engaged person, worked selflessly in any volunteer experiences, and generally aimed your academic life at a career in law for the aid of others—all this is incredibly moving for an admissions board, and can help you discuss your determination and understanding of exactly why you desire a career in law.
Additionally, this writer is able to show adaptability while describing their more prestigious appointments in a way that’s neither self-aggrandizing nor unappreciative. One of the big takeaways from this statement is the student’s commitment and flexibility, and these are both vitally important qualities to convey in your law school personal statement.
Law School Personal Statement #10
What’s Great About This Tenth Law School Personal Statement?
In a word: passion. If you’re one of the rare students for whom service to others has always been a core belief, by all means find a novel and engaging way of making this the guiding principle of your personal statement. Don’t overdo it—don’t veer into poetry or lofty philosophizing—but by all means let your passion guide your pen (well…keyboard). Every step of the way, this student relates their highs and lows, their challenges and successes, to an extremely earnest and sincere set of altruistic values invoked at the very beginning of their statement. Law school admissions boards don’t exactly prize monomania, but they do value intense and sustained commitment.
This student also successfully elaborates this passion in relation to mature understanding. That is, they make repeated points about their developing understanding of law that sustains their hopefulness and emotional intensity while also incorporating knowledge of the sometimes troubling day-to-day challenges of the profession. Law schools aren’t looking for starry-eyed naivete, but they do value optimism and the ability to stay positive in a profession often defined by its difficulties and unpredictability.
If you’re eager to get started, check out our video on How to Write a Law School Personal Statement here
Every pre-law student blames their lack of success on the large number of applicants, the heartless admissions committee members, or the high GPA and LSAT score cut offs. Check out our blog on law school acceptance rates to find out more about the admission statistics for law schools in the US. Having taught more than a thousand students every year, I can tell you the REAL truth about why most students get rejected:
- Most students don't do any form of planning for their applications. They scramble to complete their applications at the last minute, leaving their applications rushed and underwhelming. Start early and plan meticulously, gathering information about the schools to which you’re applying and giving yourself enough time to adapt your personal statement to these details as needed. If you're applying to law school in Ontario, check out our blog on the OLSAS application for everything you need to know.
- Most students don't formulate a strategy of WHAT to include in their personal statements, let alone HOW to present their ideas to their audience effectively. They just sit down and write their personal statement in one go. Good writing takes time and planning, and the best writing often involves careful planning and structuring in order to make it flow for the reader. Plan not only the structure of your personal statement but its contents. Make notes of ideas and experiences that seem at all relevant, and refine your drafts from here. Start big and sharpen down over multiple drafts. Going straight from a rough to final draft is possible in some things, but with a personal statement you need to really give things time and attention in order to transform them into a polished final product.
- Most students don't do any form of proofreading. If they do, they only revise their statement once or twice before throwing in the towel and declaring it "good enough." Unfortunately, "good enough" doesn't get you into law school. Editing is grueling work for both the writer and their editor, but its importance can’t be overstated.
- Most students don't ask for expert feedback. They don't seek out someone who can provide them with a second set of critical eyes on their essays, maybe because a random person in an online forum told them that they don't need professional editing, not realizing that everyone needs an editor. Even Hemingway had an editor. If Hemingway needed an editor, trust me, so do you (and so do I, for that matter!).
These mistakes put the student in a vicious cycle of self-condemnation and rejection letters. The savviest and successful students normally escape the rejection letter by:
- Planning in advance
- Proofreading their personal statement multiple times, and
- Seeking expert feedback
5 Additional Law School Personal Statement Examples for You to Review
Now that you have a better idea of what your law school personal statement should include, and how you can make it stand out, here are five additional law school personal statements for you to review and get some inspiration:
Law school personal statement example #11
According to the business wire, 51 percent of students are not confident in their career path when they enroll in college. I was one of those students for a long time. My parents had always stressed the importance of education and going to college, so I knew that I wanted to get a tertiary education, I just didn’t know in what field. So, like many other students, I matriculated undecided and started taking introductory courses in the subjects that interest me. I took classes from the department of literature, philosophy, science, statistics, business, and so many others but nothing really called out to me.
I figured that maybe if I got some practical experience, I might get more excited about different fields. I remembered that my high school counselor had told me that medicine would be a good fit for me, and I liked the idea of a career that involved constant learning. So, I applied for an observership at my local hospital. I had to cross “doctor” off my list of post-graduate career options when I fainted in the middle of a consultation in the ER.
I had to go back to the drawing board and reflect on my choices. I decided to stop trying to make an emotional decision and focus on the data. So, I looked at my transcript thus far, and it quickly became clear to me that I had both an interest and an aptitude for business and technology. I had taken more courses in those two fields than in any others, and I was doing very well in them. My decision was reaffirmed when I spent the summer interning at a digital marketing firm during my senior year in college and absolutely loved my experience.
Since graduating, I have been working at that same firm and I am glad that I decided to major in business. I first started as a digital advertising assistant, and I quickly learned that the world of digital marketing is an incredibly fast-paced sink-or-swim environment. I didn’t mind it at all. I wanted to swim with the best of them and succeed. So far, my career in advertising has been challenging and rewarding in ways that I never could have imagined.
I remember the first potential client that I handled on my own. Everything had been going great until they changed their mind about an important detail a day before we were supposed to present our pitch. . I had a day to research and re-do a presentation that I’d been preparing for weeks. I was sure that I’d be next on the chopping block, but once again all I had to was take a step back and look at the information that I had. Focusing on the big picture helped me come up with a new pitch, and after a long night, lots of coffee, and laser-like focus, I delivered a presentation that I was not only proud of, but that landed us the client.
Three years and numerous client emergencies later, I have learned how to work under pressure, how to push myself, and how to think critically. I also have a much better understanding of who I am and what skills I possess. One of the many things that I have learned about myself over the course of my career is that I am a fan of the law. Over the past three years, I have worked with many lawyers to navigate the muddy waters of user privacy and digital media. I often find myself looking forward to working with our legal team, whereas my coworkers actively avoid them. I have even become friends with my colleagues on the legal team who also enjoy comparing things like data protection laws in the US and the EU and speculating about the future of digital technology regulation.
These experiences and conversations have led me to a point where I am interested in various aspects of the law. I now know that I have the skills required to pursue a legal education and that this time around, I am very sure about what I wish to study. Digital technology has evolved rapidly over the last decade, and it is just now starting to become regulated. I believe that this shift is going to open up a more prominent role for those who understand both digital technology and its laws, especially in the corporate world. My goal is to build a career at the intersection of these worlds.
Law school personal statement example #12
The first weekend I spent on my undergrad college campus was simultaneously one of the best and worst of my life. I was so excited to be away from home, on my own, making new friends and trying new things. One of those things was a party at a sorority house with my friend and roommate, where I thought we both had a great time. Both of us came from small towns, and we had decided to look out for one another. So, when it was time to go home, and I couldn't find her, I started to worry. I spent nearly an hour looking for her before I got her message saying she was already back in our dorm.
It took her three months to tell me that she had been raped that night. Her rapist didn't hold a knife to her throat, jump out of a dark alleyway, or slip her a roofie. Her rapist was her long-term boyfriend, with whom she'd been in a long-distance relationship for just over a year. He assaulted her in a stranger's bedroom while her peers, myself included, danced the night away just a few feet away.
I remember feeling overwhelmed when she first told me. I was sad for my friend, angry on her behalf, and disgusted by her rapist's actions. I also felt incredibly guilty because I had been there when it happened. I told myself that I should have stayed with her all night and that I should have seen the abuse - verbal and physical harassment- that he was inflicting on her before it turned sexual. But eventually, I realized that thinking about what could, should, or would've happened doesn't help anyone.
I watched my friend go through counseling, attend support groups, and still, she seemed to be hanging on by a thread. I couldn't begin to imagine what she was going through, and unfortunately, there was very little I could do to help her. So, I decided to get involved with the Sexual Assault Responders Group on campus, where I would actually be able to help another survivor.
My experience with the Sexual Assault Responders Group on campus was eye-opening. I mostly worked on the peer-to-peer hotline, where I spoke to survivors from all walks of life. I was confronted by the fact that rape is not a surreal unfortunate thing that happens to a certain type of person. I learned that it happens daily to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends. I also learned that most survivors try to manage this burden on their own, afraid of judgment and repercussions and fearful of a he-said-she-said court battle.
I am proud to say that I used my time in college to not only earn an education, but also to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. I protested the university's cover-up of a gang rape that took place in one of the fraternity houses on campus. I spearheaded a 'no means no' campaign to raise awareness about consent on campus. I also led several fundraising campaigns for the Sexual Assault Responders Group that allowed us to pay for legal and mental health counselors for the survivors who came to us for support.
One of the things that this experience helped me realize is that sexual assault survivors often do not know where to turn when the system tries to tell them that it'd be best to just keep quiet and suffer in silence. My goal is to become one of those people that they can turn to for counsel and support. I believe that a law degree would give me the knowledge and tools that I need to advocate for survivors on a more significant scale.
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I grew up in two different worlds. My world at home was full of people of various skin tones and accents. It was small, loud, and often chaotic in the best ways. I remember walking home and getting to experience music from across the world before I got to my apartment building. Loud reggaeton and afrobeat were always playing somewhere in the distance. Aunties and uncles usually stopped by unannounced and slipped money in your palm when they hugged you goodbye. And the smell of fried plantains was almost always present.
My other world was in school. It was a much quieter, more organized world with white hallways, navy blazers, and plaid skirts. It was full of people who did not look or sound like me and teachers who thought my hair was "interesting." It was also full of great books and engaging debates about everything from foreign policy to the influence of Jazz on hip hop.
I lived in these two worlds because I was born and raised in Xtown, but I went to a private school in a much richer neighborhood. I loved both of my worlds, but I hated that I had to act differently in both of them. When in school, I had to "code switch" to sound like I belonged there. When I was at home, all the people who shared the interests I was developing in school were either working or in college, so I had no one to talk to about them.
My words never felt more divided until I started considering a career in law. I remember telling one of my uncles that I wanted to become a lawyer and his response was, "So you want to become the man, huh?"
I wasn't surprised by his response, or at least I shouldn't have been. One of the things that I know for sure about the first world I lived in is that many of its inhabitants do not trust the law. I had believed this for so long simply because of the conversations that I would hear around me. However, in my second world, I was learning about all of these great freedoms and rights that the law was designed to give all Americans, and I wanted to bring those to my community.
I started working on this during the summer before my final year of high school. I got an internship with the legal aid office in my neighborhood and spent three months learning from people who, like me, had grown up in Xtown and wanted to help people. During my time in the legal aid office, I understood that the people in my community did not trust the law for two main reasons: 1. They did not understand a lot of it, and 2. It had been used against people like us many times.
I remember one particular case that Ms. Sharma - the lawyer I was learning from then and who still mentors me today - handled that summer. It was the case of a young mother who had received a notice of eviction from her landlord two days after refusing his advances. The man claimed that she violated her contract because she made homemade shea butter that she sold on Etsy. Ms. Sharma had me look through her rental agreement. After she confirmed that I was right in determining that the young mother had not violated her contract, she contacted the landlord to advise him that what he was doing was intimidation and sexual harassment.
My experiences in the legal aid office with Ms. Sharma opened my eyes to the disgusting behavior of human beings, but it also gave me the opportunity to see that the law was my opportunity to use what I learned in my second world to help the community that I was raised in. I returned to school with a new motivation that followed me to college. In addition to completing my bachelor's degree in sociology and African American studies, I spent most of my college years participating in legal internships and community outreach programs.
I believe that these experiences have given me the foundation I need to be a successful law student and, eventually, a lawyer who can truly be an advocate for members of his community.
Law school personal statement example #14
One day, my parents noticed that the other children in my age group had been speaking and communicating, but I had not. At first, they thought that my lack of speech was just me being shy, but eventually, they realized that on the rare occasions that I did speak, my words were practically incomprehensible. It wasn't long before they took me to a specialist who diagnosed me with a severe phonological disorder that hindered my ability to verbalize the basic sounds that make up words.
I started going to speech therapy when I was three years old. I saw numerous speech therapists, many of whom believed that I would never be able to communicate effectively with others. Lucky for me, my parents did not give up on me. I went to speech therapy thrice a week until the 8th grade, and I gave every single session my all. I also spent a lot of time in my room practicing my speech by myself. My efforts paid off, and even though I didn't become a chatterbox overnight, I could at least communicate effectively.
This was a short-lived victory, though. A year later, my speech impediment was back, and my ability to articulate words was once again severely limited. This complicated matters because it was my freshman year of high school, and I was in a brand-new school where I did not know anyone. Having been bullied in middle school, I knew first-hand how vicious kids can be, and I didn't want to be the butt of any more jokes, so I didn't try to speak at school. I knew that this was preventing me from making new friends or participating in class and that it was probably not helping my impediment, but I was not ready to face the fact that I needed to go back to speech therapy.
Eventually, I stopped resisting and went back to speech therapy. At the time, I saw it as accepting defeat, and even though my speech improved significantly, my self-confidence was lower than it had ever been. If you ask any of my high school classmates about me, they will likely tell you that I am very quiet or timid – both of which are not true, but they have no way of knowing otherwise. I barely spoke or interacted with my peers for most of high school. Instead, I focused on my studies and extracurricular activities that didn't involve much collaboration, like yearbook club and photography.
It was only when I was getting ready for college that I realized that I was only hurting myself with my behavior. I knew I needed to become more confident about my speech to make friends and be the student I wanted to be in college. So, I used the summer after my high school graduation to get some help. I started seeing a new speech therapist who was also trained as a counselor, and she helped me understand my impediment better. For example, I now know that I tend to stutter when stressed, but I also know that taking a few deep breaths helps me get back on track.
Using the confidence that I built in therapy that summer, I went to college with a new pep in my step. I pushed myself to meet new people, try new things, and join extracurricular organizations when I entered college. I applied to and was accepted into a competitive freshman leadership program called XYZ. Most of XYZ's other members were outgoing and highly involved in their high school communities. In other words, they were the complete opposite of me. I didn't let that intimidate me. Instead, I made a concerted effort to learn from them. If you ask any of my teammates or other classmates in college, they will tell you that I was an active participant in discussions during meetings and that I utilized my unique background to share a different perspective.
My experience with XYZ made it clear to me that my speech disorder wouldn't hold me back as long as I did not stand in my own way. Once I understood this, I kept pushing past the boundaries I had set for myself. I began taking on leadership roles in the program and looking for ways to contribute to my campus community outside of XYZ. For example, I started a community outreach initiative that connected school alumni willing to provide pro bono services to different members of the community who were in need.
Now, when I look back at my decision to go back to speech therapy, I see it as a victory. I understand that my speech impediment has shaped me in many ways, many of which are positive. My struggles have made me more compassionate. My inability to speak has made me a better listener. Not being able to ask questions or ask for help has made me a more independent critical thinker. I believe these skills will help me succeed in law school, and they are part of what motivates me to apply in the first place. Having struggled for so long to speak up for myself, I am ready and eager for the day when I can speak up for others who are temporarily unable to.
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Law school personal statement example #15
“ You talk too much; you should be a lawyer.”
I heard that sentence often while growing up because Congolese people always tell children who talk a lot that they should be lawyers. Sometimes I wonder if those comments did not subconsciously trigger my interest in politics and then the law. If they did, I am grateful for it. I am thankful for all the experiences that have brought me to this point where I am seeking an education that will allow me to speak for those who don’t always know how to, and, more importantly, those who are unable to.
For context, I am the child of Congolese immigrants, and my parents have a fascinating story that I will summarize for you:
A 14-year-old girl watches in confusion as a swarm of parents rush through the classroom, grabbing their children, and other students start running from the class. Soon she realizes that she and one other student are the only ones left, but when they both hear the first round of gunshots, no one has to tell them that it is time to run home. On the way home, she hears more gunshots and bombs. She fears for her survival and that of her family, and she starts to wonder what this war means for her and her family. Within a few months, her mother and father are selling everything they own so that they can board a plane to the US.
On the other side of the town, a 17-year-old boy is being forced to board a plane to the US because his mother, a member of parliament and the person who taught him about the importance of integrity, has been executed by the same group of soldiers who are taking over the region.
They met a year later, outside the principal’s office at a high school in XXY. They bonded over the many things they have in common and laughed at the fact that their paths probably never would have crossed in Bukavu. Fast forward to today, they have been married for almost two decades and have raised three children, including me.
Growing up in a Congolese household in the US presented was very interesting. On the one hand, I am very proud of the fact that I get to share my heritage with others. I speak French, Lingala, and Swahili – the main languages of Congo – fluently. I often dress in traditional clothing; I performed a traditional Congolese dance at my high school’s heritage night and even joined the Congolese Student Union at Almamatter University.
On the other hand, being Congolese presented its challenges growing up. At a young age, I looked, dressed, and sounded different from my classmates. Even though I was born in the US, I had picked up a lot of my parents’ accents, and kids loved to tease me about it. Ignorant comments and questions were not uncommon. “Do you speak African?” “You’re not American! How did you get here?” “You don’t look African” “My mom says I can’t play with you because your parents came here to steal our jobs”. These are some of the polite comments that I heard often, and they made me incredibly sad, especially when classmates I considered my friends made them.
My parents did not make assimilating any easier. My mother especially always feared I would lose my Congolese identity if they did not make it a point to remind me of it. She often said, “Just because you were born in America doesn’t mean that you are not Congolese anymore.” On one occasion, I argued that she always let me experience my Congolese side, but not my American side. That was the first time she told me I should be a lawyer.
Having few friends and getting teased in school helped me learn to be comfortable on my own. I Often found refuge and excitement in books. I even started blogging about the books I read and interacting with other readers online. As my following grew, I started to use my platform to raise awareness about issues that I am passionate about, like climate change, the war in Congo, and the homeless crisis here in XXY. I was able to start a fundraising campaign through my blog that raised just under $5000 for the United Way – a local charity that helps the homeless in my city.
This experience helped me understand that I could use my skills and the few tools at my disposal to help people, both here in America and one day, maybe even in Congo. I realized that I am lucky enough to have the option of expanding that skillset through education in order to do more for the community that welcomed my grandparents, uncles, aunties, and parents when they had nowhere else to go.
The journey was not easy because while I received immense support and love from my family for continuing my education, I had to teach myself how to prepare and apply to college. Once there I had to learn on my own what my professors expected of me, how to study, how to network, and so much more. I am grateful for those experiences too, because they taught me how to be resourceful, research thoroughly, listen carefully, and seek help when I need it.
All of these experiences have crafted me into who I am today, and I believe that with the right training, they will help me become a great attorney.
Assuredly, but this length varies from school to school. As with all important details of your law school application, thoroughly research your specific schools’ requirements and guidelines before both writing and editing your personal statement to ensure it fits their specifics. The average length is about 2 pages, but don’t bother drafting your statement until you have specific numbers from your schools of choice. It’s also a good idea to avoid hitting the maximum length unless absolutely necessary. Be concise, keep economy of language in mind, and remain direct, without rambling or exhaustive over-explanation of your ideas or experiences.
You should keep any words that aren’t your own to a minimum. Admissions committees don’t want to read a citation-heavy academic paper, nor do they respond well to overused famous quotes as themes in personal statements. If you absolutely must include a quote from elsewhere, be sure to clearly indicate your quote’s source. But in general, it’s best to keep the personal statement restricted to your own words and thoughts. They’re evaluating you, not Plato! It’s a personal statement. Give them an engaging narrative in your own voice.
Admissions committees will already have a strong sense of your academic performance through your transcripts and test scores, so discussing these in your personal statement is generally best avoided. You can contextualize these things, though—if you have an illuminating or meaningful story about how you came to receive an award, or how you enjoyed or learned from the work that won you the award, then consider discussing it. Overall though, it’s best to let admissions committees evaluate your academic qualifications and accomplishments from your transcripts and official documents, and give them something new in the personal statement.
When you first sit down to begin, cast a wide net. Consider all the many influences and experiences that have led you to where you are. You’ll eventually (through editing and rewriting) explain how these shape your relationship to a career in law, but one of the best things you can give yourself during the initial drafting phase is a vast collection of observations and potential points for development. As the New England School of Law points out in their tips for applicants , “just write!” Let the initial draft be as messy as it needs to be, and refine it from there. It’s a lot easier to condense and sharpen a big draft than it is to try to tensely craft a perfect personal statement from nothing.
Incredibly important, as should be clear by now! Unlike other specialties, law schools don’t usually conduct interviews with applicants, so your personal statement is in effect your one opportunity to speak with the admissions committee directly. Don’t let that gravity overwhelm you when you write, but keep it in mind as you edit and dedicate time to improving your initial drafts. Be mindful of your audience as you speak with them, and treat writing your personal statement as a kind of initial address in what, hopefully, will eventually turn into an ongoing dialogue.
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How long should a Personal Statement be? Is there any rule on that?
BeMo Academic Consulting
Hello V! Thanks for your question. Some schools will gave very specific word limits, while some will not. If you do not have a limit indicated, try to stick to no more than a page, 600-800 words.
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- George Mason University
- Schar School of Policy and Government
- The Law School Personal Statement: A Collection
For further information, contact Professor Phillip Mink, J.D., at [email protected]
Support the Schar School Pre-Law LSAT Scholarship Fund
Introduction By Phillip Mink Director of the Patriot Pre-Law Program Schar School of Policy and Government
Since 2005 I have advised a multitude of pre-law students at George Mason University and the University of Delaware. Aside from general application advice, my students hope to learn how to write a personal statement that will help them get into law school. Many are convinced they should discuss why they want to become a lawyer. Some schools may require that, I explain, so check their websites. But I also explain that students may want to follow the University of Chicago Law School’s advice: write about “something personal, relevant, and completely individual to you.”  Similarly, Georgetown Law School advises students to write on “any subject that will enable the Admissions Committee to get to know you.” 
In effect, then, a personal statement can be a two page mini-autobiography that will convince a school a student can bring something unique to the campus. Inevitably this undertaking sends students scurrying down literary pathways they hadn’t anticipated, and for which their college curricula has left them woefully unprepared. Despite the difficulty of the writing task, students are often enthralled by creating a narrative showing how their life events have shaped them into who they are. And when they grasp that the revision process can dramatically improve their work, they appreciate learning how to craft the polished prose that an effective statement requires. This is no small matter for a writing intensive profession such as the law. As Cornell Law School notes, personal statements are evaluated for “both content and construction, so write about something interesting and write about it well.”  To that end, my students and I often work through six or seven drafts. When the writing process ends, students can be satisfied they have conveyed exactly what they wanted to say about themselves in fluid, error-free prose.
In my fifteen years as a pre-law advisor and legal writing teacher, I have read hundreds of statements. The variety of my students’ life experiences never ceases to amaze me, and selecting 37 statements from this abundance has been a difficult but enjoyable task. In addition to personal statements, I have been privileged to read several dozen diversity statements from students who can bring a different perspective to a profession that has too often failed to reflect the experiences of all Americans. Eight of those are collected here as well. I am grateful to all of these students for allowing me to use their work as learning tools for those who will follow in their footsteps. 
Prof. Phillip Mink, J.D. George Mason University [email protected]
This summer I helped oppressed women in the Middle East write a constitution. I was at a refugee center in a small village in Jordan, where Syrian women had fled Bashar al-Assad’s merciless regime. With the help of our professor, several other students and I developed a project allowing these women to create a constitution from scratch, expressing the values that had for so long been suppressed by Assad and by religious edict. The concept underlying our project was that we would introduce the women to ideas about democracy, and in so doing we would empower them to take an active role in politics and society. If Assad were to fall, these women might well be at the vanguard in forming a new government that arose from this devastated nation.
This workshop was held in a pale one-room building, which was filled from wall to wall with refugee women. When I entered I saw 50 veiled, wide brown eyes staring back at me. They had probably never been in the same room as a white person, yet they looked towards me without fear or hostility. Instead, as soon as we began walking them through a presentation on the basic ideas underlying any democratic society, they were mesmerized, their eyes transfixed on the screen. The eagerness in the room was palpable, and I knew they were anxious to begin voicing their own opinions, which was still foreign to them because their government had forbidden such heresy.
We separated them into groups, and each one developed an article, some of which were about women’s rights and the right to a free education and health care. They also wanted the right to express their opinions about the Assad regime and the Alawite religious sect that dominated Syrian government.
When the conversations started, we walked around the room to help if they needed it. They did not. Instead I was stunned by the women’s dedication to the principles they were developing, and their faces lit up when I told them how impressive I found their ideas. I had to transcribe what they were saying as it was translated to me, but despite the texting skills developed as a Millennial, I could barely keep up with their energetic give-and-take. One group in particular was memorable for me. Although this might have been their first political discussion, they spoke with confidence and surprising sophistication about free health care for everyone, giving priority to children and the elderly if universal health care were unattainable. From these ideas they created specific constitutional language.
After formulating their articles, a representative from each group stood at the front of the room and announced their additions to the constitution. In a world where modesty was required, the confidence they exuded as they spoke so adamantly about their amendments was anything but modest. In the end, they had written a genuine document they could take forward in their attempts to create a new Syria.
I identify with these women because I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, a small city controlled by the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Southern Baptist ideals. The principal gender role behind this denomination was that women should be submissive to their husbands and caretakers to their families. During my education, I was repeatedly reminded of my place as a woman. After a TED Talk on traditional gender roles, for instance, a classmate said she would have a career only as long as it took her to find a husband and start a family. On a separate occasion, a male classmate said his mom told him a woman should never be president for fear she would begin menstruating and start a world war. This bizarre adherence to traditional gender roles was suffocating, but when I moved away from Lynchburg I left those gender roles behind. My experience with the Syrian women in Jordan strengthened my resolve to ensure that those who face seemingly impossible situations have the same freedoms I did. No society should have the power to force women, or anyone else, into submission.
“During the Argentinian Military Dictatorship,” Ms. Quinn began, “soldiers herded pregnant dissidents onto planes. If a mother were ugly, they decided her child would be as well, and they pushed the woman off the plane into the ocean.” Ms. Quinn, my sixth grade world history teacher, meant to teach us the horrors of tyrannical regimes. Instead those words spun in my brain until they produced two characters: an Argentinian mother imprisoned for her progressive beliefs and her daughter, Eva, determined to follow in her parents’ rebellious footsteps. That evening, I began drafting my first novel.
Overnight I had become “a writer.” Novel-crafting transformed from a hobby to my new passion. November – once marked by Thanksgiving – became National Novel Writing Month: Thousands of writers worldwide attempted to write 50,000 words in thirty days. When I was not crafting Eva’s story, I was scouring writing blogs for advice on foreshadowing, character development, and revision. As others read my draft, I discovered that words have power. My best friend Amanda, for instance, fell in love with Eva’s older brother Simon. When he died, she implored me in vain to change his fate. Friends stopped me in the hallway between classes, pleading for the next installment. Completing Eva’s story took me three years, two rewrites, and 168,865 words. In the summer before I started high school, I added Eva’s story to the “final drafts” folder on my computer. In that moment I committed myself to a fiction-writing career.
Two years later, when I was sixteen, I discovered a darker dimension of words’ power. Men twice my age started catcalling me from across the street with “Hey baby,” or a “How about you come home with me tonight?” A man called me “exotic” because of my Indian heritage, insisting that foreign women “bring something extra” to a relationship. My Spanish fluency combined with my dark skin tone prompted a stranger to shout, “Mexicans do not belong in this country.”
I wanted to confront my harassers, but I did not feel safe doing that in real life. So I did it in my stories. My next character became a bilingual East Asian woman who struggled to fight the “docile Asian woman” stereotype, the idea that East Asian women are submissive partners destined to become housewives. My character’s best friend was an African American man who could not shop at a clothing store without being accused of shoplifting. As a fiction writer, I aspired to foster respect for minorities so eventually no person would be persecuted for speaking a different language and no woman would be propositioned for daring to walk unescorted. While these portrayals empowered me, I felt a nagging suspicion that representation alone would not create equality for minorities. By high school graduation, I decided to give up fiction writing to find a career that promoted systemic change.
I entered college determined to learn about the political structures that perpetuated exploitation and the institutions that could help me change these inequalities. One of my political science courses introduced me to biopiracy, the process of patenting biological knowledge or practices without compensating the indigenous people who developed the craft. I studied a case in which the U.S. government allowed a Texas company, Ricetec, to patent basmati rice. The patent restricted Indian basmati rice exports to the United States and lowered basmati rice’s price in European markets, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Indian farmers, grain refiners, and traders. As an Indian woman who had eaten basmati rice four days a week for most of my life, I was appalled at the thought of an American company gaining exclusive rights to rice strains that Indian farmers have spent centuries cross-breeding and perfecting. The Indian government shared this sentiment. By parsing international agreements and arguing for a geographical interpretation of the word “basmati,” the nation’s lawyers prevented the exploitation of indigenous Indian people and ensured that Indian families in the United States would not have to pay a premium to maintain a traditional diet.
My political science classes acquainted me with many such cases in which trade agreements, international conventions, and national legislation could either oppress people or empower them. Behind every scenario were dozens of lawyers whose words changed the lives of thousands. As I considered these cases, I recalled my first novel. A decade before, inequality and human rights violations had inspired me to write fiction. My love for writing compelled me to continue this pursuit for seven years, and at eighteen, my drive to end systemic discrimination compelled me to give it up. My undergraduate education has made me realize that I do not have to choose between my love for language and my desire to empower vulnerable peoples. I can combine both of my passions with the law.
I’m the child of Afghani immigrants, and my parents have a great story to tell. It begins with a 7-year old girl who watches in confusion as a swarm of parents rush through the classroom grabbing their children. Soon she realizes that she and one other student are the only ones left. Suddenly a soldier bursts into the classroom and grabs the other student, the grandson of the former President of Afghanistan, Daoud Khan. The teacher fights a tug-of-war to keep the child, but eventually the soldier takes him away to the family’s palace, where his entire family is massacred.
The Russians are invading Afghanistan.
On the way home, the girl hears gun shots and bombs, and she starts to fear what this invasion will mean for her and her family. Before she knows it, her mother and father are selling their belongings to make enough money to escape the war. A month later, her family boards a plane to the U.S.
On the other side of town in Kabul, a young boy awakens to his family of 10 rushing to finish packing. The communists had placed a hit on his father, brother, and sister, who are all active anti-communists. The family drives from Kabul to Jalalabad, takes a bus, hops onto the back of a pickup truck, and travels by foot until they reach a military area with tents for individuals escaping the country.
Early the next morning, the family walks with their luggage the entire day until they catch a bus to Peshawar, Pakistan, leaving behind their beloved home of Afghanistan. After living in Pakistan for 18 months, the family makes its passage to the United States.
Ten years later, the girl and boy meet at a high school in Annandale, Virginia. Discovering how much they have in common, the two high school sweethearts fall in love and marry shortly after graduation. In their early 20s, they bring three children into this world, one of them being me.
Growing up in an Afghan household in the U.S. presented its own challenges. At a young age, the way I looked and dressed – and especially my faith – were different than those of my classmates. Ignorant comments and questions were not uncommon. “Is Osama Bin Laden your uncle?” “I know your family has oil money.” “Why are you so hairy?” “You’re Muslim? I’ll pray for you.” These comments made me incredibly sad, especially when classmates I considered my friends made them.
My own family did not make assimilating any easier. My parents would only let me play with other kids in our home because they feared I would lose my Afghan identity. Sleepovers were out of the question. As my mother would occasionally rant, “Just because you were born here doesn’t mean you’re American. You are not allowed to date, wear short shorts, or go to parties.”
Despite these strict expectations, I always celebrated my background, the way I was raised, and my religious beliefs. I performed the centuries-old Afghan dance, the attan , in traditional clothing at my high school’s heritage night; joined the Afghan Student Union at George Mason University; presented my unusually large family tree in an anthropology course (I have 22 first cousins!); and met with a mullah every weekend to learn how to the read the Quran in Arabic. I am proud to be different than my peers and have my own sense of uniqueness.
However, my pride has been tempered by the realities of being a first generation college student. When my parents moved to the U.S., my father became an electrician and my mother a hairstylist. While I received immense support and love from my family for continuing my education, I had to teach myself how to apply to college, and once there I had to learn on my own what my professors expected of me. I couldn’t call my parents when I was stuck on a difficult calculus problem or cry for help when I didn’t know how to conclude my 10-page Western Civilization paper. I was on my own.
These experiences have crafted me into who I am today. Given my appreciation for diversity, as an attorney I want to help minorities who face discrimination achieve equal opportunity and success in the workplace.
My heartbeat pulsed in my ears as I climbed the steps of my school football stadium and neared the bench where my thirty-six year old math teacher and club advisor was waiting for me. My stomach knotted as he turned to me, a little too close, and said “I’m so happy you’re here.” I had agreed to meet him here like he asked, so that we could “hang out” outside of school for the first time. These “coincidental” encounters would quickly escalate to a hand brushing my back as I passed his classroom in the hallway, an uncomfortable kiss when everyone else had left the room after practice, and eventually, sexual encounters at his home before or after school. With each passing day, I felt more entangled in the web of lies I had constructed to protect my secret “relationship.” I lied to protect the studious and responsible reputation I had earned, to hide my shame and embarrassment for what I felt was my wrongdoing, and to avoid being viewed as someone who could be taken advantage of. I would endure ten agonizing months of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of a man I trusted. He constantly reminded me that he was risking his career and reputation to be with me, which placed an enormous burden of responsibility on my shoulders and rendered me terrified to end my abuse. I began to hope for a way out.
Our frequent public outings together served as my greatest hope of salvation, when I would hope against all hope that someone would notice that we did not look like a normal couple. Eventually, somebody saw us leaving an event together one Wednesday evening and reported it to the police. Unbeknownst to me, a police officer followed me back to his apartment the next week, verifying the anonymous tip and sparking a criminal investigation. Though I did not know it yet, my life was saved by a complete stranger.
Five days later, I picked up my ringing cell phone from the table while my mom peered at the screen, looking as curious as I felt about the call from an unsaved number. My “Hello?” was met with “This is Detective Jones from the Hartford Police Department, and I need to ask you a few questions.” My heart instantly fell into my stomach, not out of fear, but because a wave of relief swept over me. Later at the police station, I would detail my ordeal to the detective, naïve of the scrutiny I would face and the judgment that would mark the expressions of friends and acquaintances. Despite the news headline “Connecticut teacher accused of sex with student” and communal knowledge of his eighteen charges of sexual assault, others rarely sympathized with my plight. Instead of succumbing to the whispers of “whore” and “teacher’s pet” in the hallway, I dedicated myself to my studies, reconnected with the family I had estranged, and became the best version of myself. I would go on to speak with other abuse victims, showing them that I had found a way back to “normal” with the help of my family and a dedicated prosecutor who helped me accept my experiences as abuse, identify as a survivor, and lend my strength to other young women beginning their own journeys to recovery. Her tireless efforts to pursue justice and a maximum sentence for my abuser and firm determination to see me through my ordeal established her as my role model.
My own recovery has left me with a desire to use the law to protect and save other victims the way my prosecutor saved me. Through this arduous experience, I have obtained an invaluable personal experience with the positive impacts law has on society and individuals. It would be a privilege to spend my life replicating this positivity as an advocate for victims of similar crimes.
When I was seven years old, I would peer over the worn and winding banister that led up our parlor stairs, just barely letting my oversize green eyes show, careful not to let my parents see me. In the front entranceway, I would watch my mother sob as cops handcuffed my older brother and pulled him away. Petrified, I would look out our second floor window and watch the blue and red lights glisten in the rain, and then fade as they turned out of our cul-de-sac with my misunderstood brother inside. Once the coast was clear, I would tiptoe back into my bedroom and tuck in my younger sister. I would whisper in her ear that everything was okay and lay next to her until her breathing thickened. Heartbroken and unable to sleep myself, I would stare at the ceiling for hours. Sometime in my night-light illuminated room, the realization sank in that fifty-four years after “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was published, Americans still know little to nothing about mental illness.
As any child should be, I was hopeful. To me, my brother was still an all American athlete with a 4.0 GPA. He was the cool, “normal” college student I looked up to. So every birthday I would blow out my candles and wish for my brother not to be crazy anymore. At Christmas time I would write to Santa asking for a cure for schizophrenia. I would wish for my brother to stop smoking, but I did not know it made him feel calm. I would wish he would receive adequate disability money so he could have a better life.
As a second grader I could barely spell schizophrenia, let alone understand it. I could not grasp that unlike the flu it had no remedy. Since every brain is unique, some medications can help alleviate episodes for one patient, while drastically worsening them for another. For many doctors, the easiest solution is to just over-drug patients until they are a monotone, lifeless version of who they once were. Frustrated, I pretended everything was normal and pushed my brother to the back of my mind.
As a middle schooler, I was just as insecure and humiliated as every other thirteen-year-old. I was embarrassed about my tiny frame, Irish freckles, and intelligence, but mostly I was embarrassed about my brother. So much so that I never told a soul about that part of my life. When my brother took my dog Hershey to the vet to be put down because in his mind she had cancer, I told my friends she died of old age. When my friends that slept over asked why he talked to himself, I would tell them he was on the phone. I was ashamed, and I was afraid of what other people would make him out to be if they knew the truth.
It was not until the latter part of high school that I realized most of my classmates had challenging aspects in their lives too. I became confident enough in myself to stop hiding such a big part of my life. It bothered me so much that people did not know or care to know about mental illness, that they’d rather look away than wonder why the weird, homeless guy is asking for money. Maybe the rest of the world was not ready to talk about schizophrenia, but I finally realized if I ever wanted mental illness to be a topic of conversation, I had to be the first to acknowledge it.
As I’ve matured, I have realized that my brother has helped define who I am, and I will never see him as a challenge I overcame. As long as I remain compassionate, I will love him regardless of the many ups and downs my family encounters. As long as I remain confident, I can overcome the obstacles that I, as a young girl, did not understand. Although most people see the law as corrupt and a lost cause, my brother has helped me to view it as a vehicle for change. I am proud to say I no longer tiptoe and hide behind banisters, but I won’t stop there. I hope one day I can be part of political and social change surrounding mental illness so that people like John don’t have to hide in shame either.
Saying goodbye to my mother without the promise of seeing her again robbed me of my innocence. My father came first to the US in 1992. He had “papers” but could not provide them for my mother. So when I was nine, my mother said “mi amor me voy para El Norte mañana,” (my love, I’m going to the North) and she explained that she did not know whether she would make it to the U.S., but she hoped God would provide her safety.
It took her 15 days to get to the US. I remember laying on our dirt patio and making figures out of the clouds while my grandmother cooked rice and beans for me. She and I would sit in silence, worried sick while wondering where my mother was and how she was doing. My mother finally made it to the US with the help of a coyote, and a month later my grandmother and I were on our way to reunite with her and my father. This experience was the beginning of the journey that forced me to mature at a young age.
When I arrived at the U.S., I walked into a beautiful house with my father, thinking this would be our new home, but then he pointed to two rooms in the back and said “Esos son los de nosotros” (Those are ours.) The rest of the house was off limits, in other words. This was my “sueño Americano” (American dream), a family of four living in two rooms because we could not afford anything else. And when my mother had twins, we had six. My mother, grandma, and I had to walk to the nearest shopping center to eat lunch at a McDonald’s because the kitchen was off limits. I knew no English, I had no friends, and I was bullied every day in school for my hand-made clothes, my tortillas and rice and beans, and my lazy eyes. But I would not complain. My parents brought me to this country with great efforts, and I was thankful for being in the U.S., away from the poverty and gang violence that dominated life in El Salvador. Within two years, I had learned the language and became at peace with being an Hispanic in a mostly white world.
But my challenges had not ended. At the age of 15 my mom was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, and then my sister was diagnosed with alopecia – she has no hair at all. My father worked two full-time jobs, so he had no time for us, but I could not let my family fall apart. I had to assume the maternal role in my family. While a sophomore in high school, I took care of my mom and my eight-year-old twin siblings and managed our household – paid bills, cleaned, and did laundry. On my 18 th birthday, I became my 84-year-old grandmother’s caretaker, and till this day I continue to look after everyone in my family, even cooking meals for them. Nothing has come easily for me, but I have never backed down from anything.
This heavy workload prevented me from doing as well as I wanted to in high school, but I wanted to further my education at the Northern Virginia Community College. There I learned to manage school and family obligations more effectively, and after two years I transferred to George Mason University. I wanted to finish on time, but to do that I had to take four classes one summer. I was intent on not becoming the Hispanic stereotype of failing to graduate on time. My older step-brother failed out of a community college, which is typical in our community – starting something and not finishing. So that terrible summer I began my classes at 8:30 AM and finished at 7:30 PM. Courses were harder and larger, and at times I feared I would fall behind. But I overcame my fears and made A’s in very course, and ever since I have been a dean’s list student.
From my life experiences, I have learned that I can overcome any obstacle. Life can still be overwhelming at times, however. I go to bed at 3 am every day, and I wake up at 8 am. I help my siblings get ready for school, and then I administer my mom’s medications and help my grandma start her day. I go to class, and after that I hurry home to feed my family and do homework with my siblings, who are now in 6th grade. Only then can I do my own school work. I am often exhausted, but my determination to obtain my academic goals and keep my family afloat continues to overcome it.
Standing 10,000 feet above sea level, I stared in awe at my surroundings. Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, lies just south of a small town called Garmisch. Gazing down at the village, I was reminded of gift shop postcards, with the beautiful green pastures covered in a light layer of snow, reflecting from a nearby lake with clear, vibrant blue water. Having hiked the Hollental route up the mountain, my parents and I were cold and exhausted, but we were also exhilarated. The faint wind carried the warmth and pleasant aromas from Sonnalpin, a restaurant at the top of Zugspitze.
Hiking and dining on the highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountains became one of my most treasured memories from living in Germany. I was only in middle school at the time, and my family and I had only been living in Germany for a year due to my father’s military assignment. Despite my familiarity with living abroad, the thought of moving to a new country with different languages and customs terrified me. As an Afro-Dominican, I looked different from my European neighbors, and I was anxious about how my classmates would greet me.
However, this fear was unwarranted. Our German neighbors immediately welcomed us, excited to practice their English on my family while peppering us with questions about the U.S. Any nervousness I felt quickly dissipated. Our neighbors loved teaching us about their culture and accompanying us on spontaneous adventures, such as hiking up Zugspitze. I soon formed a cherished friendship with Jule, a neighbor’s daughter who was about the same age as I was. The Halloween after we met, she took me to Frankenstein Castle in Darmstadt, Germany, known as the inspiration behind the famous book by Mary Shelley. It was a beautiful but ominous-looking stone castle on top of a hill, and actors were dressed up as vampires, werewolves, and – of course – Frankenstein’s monster. They chased Jule and me down the hills and later put on a show where the actors danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I was glad that Jule and I could share the screams and laughter of that night. She and I still keep in touch, and she is slowly teaching me the German language through email.
Since Jule showed me a German Halloween, my parents and I decided to show our neighbors an American Thanksgiving. The smell of pumpkin pie and baked turkey filled our house as twenty Germans arrived for their first Thanksgiving Dinner. Per European dinner etiquette – they brought either a dish or a bottle of wine. Since we lived in Stetten, a southwestern town that is part of the Swabia region in Germany, almost every dish was a traditional Schwaben recipe. Around the table, our turkey and stuffing were now paired with food such as Krautschupfnudeln, which is a blend of noodles, sauerkraut, and pork. The house was filled with laughter as we all shared our favorite stories and memories, and – most importantly – what we were all thankful for. I vividly remember my mom saying how grateful she was to have made so many new friends in Germany.
And she was right. The initial warmth from our neighbors shaped my entire experience abroad, and the friendships I made and memories we created changed who I am today. Now, I love to travel and learn about other cultures and share my own. Our German friends’ hospitality and kindness showed my family that life may be a climb – a 10,000 ft. climb – but the view is worthwhile. Someday I hope to help others adjust to the United States, showing the same kindness that my neighbors did.
When I walked into my fourth-grade classroom at the American School in Beirut, I was introduced to a tall, sandy haired woman from Oklahoma who had a brilliant mind and a warm smile. I soon adored Ms. Kaylee McIndoe’s Midwest accent and her stories of how she fell asleep at night by counting sheep jumping through hula hoops. She strongly encouraged my overactive imagination and my love for writing. She inspired me to consume books at an astronomical rate. During that year, I began to write my own book, The Witch of Gibraltar , about a witch and her cat living on Gibraltar, and after reading it for me, Ms. McIndoe encouraged me to continue to write. I learned from her that I could be whomever I wanted to be as long as I was strong and curious and brave. We moved away from Beirut before I started sixth grade, and with this move I left behind memories of Bnachii Lake in the summer, reading books on trains barreling through the Lebanon countryside, and the magic that living in Beirut can give to a child. Living in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania wasn’t nearly as fascinating as growing up in the heart of Beirut, but I learned to acclimate.
When I was in seventh grade, I walked into my house one evening to see my mother sobbing. She tearfully informed me that Ms. McIndoe had killed herself. I was devastated that this woman who was such a bright force in my life had lost hope in her own. A few years later, I understood fully what she had experienced when I was diagnosed with double depression. At 16, I had to learn how to find the will to live while taking 100 mg of Zoloft a day and attending weekly therapy.
Through all of this, only theatre brought me joy in my life. I was involved in almost every show my high school offered, and during my senior year, I auditioned at a theatre conservatory with the dream of becoming an actress on Broadway. The day I received my rejection letter, I completely changed my plans and submitted my deposit to The University of Washington, located in the city where I was born.
I didn’t know that living in Seattle would change my life, but it did. I began volunteering at an organization called RED, which provides housing and medication to people who test positive for HIV. Through RED, I found my love of service. I resolved to enter a career where I could effect positive differences in my communities.
This past year, I began rediscovering the child who loved books and writing. Depression has a nasty habit of cloaking all that is good, and I became more in touch with who I was and whom I wanted to become. While I still attend therapy and have dismal days, my depression improved when I learned to cope by channeling my feelings into forming more human connections and helping others transcend their circumstances.
I’ve experienced many deaths since Ms. McIndoe died, and each one has taught me what is valuable and true. I’ve learned that life is not composed of LSAT scores or wealth or looks or rankings. Life is an intricate and stunning accumulation of the beauty of humanity, and this is reflected in the ways that we impact others every day. I may never make a major impact on someone’s life, but I will die happy knowing that I tried every day of my life to help someone else. I know Ms. McIndoe would be proud of me if she were to see me today.
The right law school for me will continue to further my purpose in my life, and I hope this will cause a domino effect in the lives of others. The events that have happened to me, for better or for worse, have shaped me into the person I am today and the lawyer I wish to become. For me this profession means helping others, but it also means giving back to my community and to the people who have supported me to grow into the best possible version of myself.
Nineteen years ago, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that slowly destroys the body’s connectivity to its muscles. As a former college athlete and coach now permanently confined to a wheelchair and unable to drive, her MS diagnosis was deeply personal. So, last spring when I ventured back to my hometown in South Jersey to spend a weekend with my family, my first priority was to help my mom cross errands off of her growing list, something difficult for her to do alone. Our first errand was to the post office in Cape May in search of a book of Forever Stamps.
I wheeled my mom up to the front of the brick building. The heavy, non-automatic door only opened toward us, forcing a difficult standoff to claw it open while simultaneously rolling the wheelchair forward over the lip of the threshold. Inside, an obstacle course of sorts greeted us. The writing table used to divide the lobby and guide the customers was flanked on one side with a protruding display of greeting cards and on the other with a narrow runway for customers. After a few paces, the path for the wheelchair became narrower. My mom’s arm caught the edge of a glass display case, breaking the skin, and the jet-black rubber wheels of her chair left skid marks against the front of a cabinet.
Of the four counters, only one was low enough for customers needing ADA-accessibility, but it was used as a storage spot for patrons dropping off pre-paid shipments, with packages stacked nearly to the ceiling. We approached the only open standing counter, my mom’s neck craning up at the clerk as she ordered four books of stamps. She stretched uncomfortably to punch her PIN into the debit machine. We left with our stamps, fighting the door again. No employee noticed her struggle.
When we settled back into the car, my mom broke down crying, and I cried with her. In public, she was made to feel undeserving of the ability to occupy routine space.
During the same summer as the Cape May post office visit, I was finishing a year-long strategy project at [xx] working with the State Department and the U.S. Postal Service on how best to digitize the manual passport application process. I returned to work after my weekend at home with an acute need to act. I sat down with my client, the head of the USPS passport business, and recounted my mom’s experience. When I finished, she turned to her computer, sent me the contact information for the head of USPS in South Jersey, and said, “I am confident you can fix this. Do it for your mom.”
For the rest of my summer, I collaborated with the USPS regional leadership to change the organization’s blind spots: altering the swing of the door, relocating the package placement area, and eliminating the greeting card display that obstructed wheelchair access to the counter. When I took my mom back to the post office, I asked her what she thought of the changes. She replied matter of factly, “This is the way it always should have been.” She was right. She now had equal claim to the space, something with which I never had to grapple.
I am keenly aware of the advantages that I possess, such as the ability to navigate physical space unaided and unprofiled. I am also mindful that advantage is easily transmitted intergenerationally, unless members of those privileged groups work to cede their positions, myself included. This was why I studied inequality of wealth and economic mobility at the London School of Economics. I investigated inequality through an intersectional lens and argued that social, political, and physical identities intertwine and overlap to create patent systems of exclusion. From implicit discrimination in student lunch programs for low-income kids to the regressive impact of unregulated student loan policies, my experiences have continually focused on inequality as a multidimensional issue that will require multifaceted solutions. Now in my current role on the [xx] team, I work in cities whose economies have been left behind in the wake of Silicon Valley’s boom, places like Birmingham, Boise, Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, and Tulsa. I regularly meet people with brilliant ideas in these communities that are often overlooked due to the lack of a particular platform, pedigree, or privilege.
I aspire to dedicate my legal career to solving structural problems for people who are left out of our complex economic system. My background in wealth and income inequality, public policy, and regional economic development is foundational to my desire to practice consumer financial protection, antitrust, and bankruptcy law, all areas that disproportionately impact the economic agency of low- and middle-income people. A top-tier legal education will provide me with the legal frameworks and tools to represent these values as an attorney on issues as complex as national venture capital allocation or as commonplace as accessibility in one’s hometown post office.
As the only child of two doctors, my parents expected that I would accept admittance into their highly ranked legacy schools and gently ease into one of their medical practices. However, in Spring 2013 one of my closest childhood friends was accused of sexual assault, and by the time the case was resolved, I realized I wanted to become a lawyer.
John was six years older than I, and from the time I was three years old we collected tadpoles, hunted for buried valuables in Henlopen State Park, and, when the weather was unpleasant, played board games (our favorite being Yahtzee). John’s mother was a close friend of my own mother, and she would often babysit me while my mother was running her podiatry practice. John’s mom was a warm, witty Italian matriarch who welcomed me into their family without reservation. Her family and I would convene every Thursday for “pizza night,” where we would talk about our day and discuss the latest sports events.
So understandably I was shaken when my mom called me at school during my sophomore year of high school and said, “Jane, John has been accused of sexual assault by a former neighbor when they were both 12 years old. I know it’s a lot to process, but a prosecutor will be calling you to discuss John’s character.” The neighbor claimed that ten years before, while they were watching TV in her living room, he groped her genitals. At the time of the accusation, John was 22 years old and a police officer. His supervisors immediately put him on desk duty, and the allegations created a nightmarish whispering environment.
Within a month, the prosecutor called me. “Did he ever touch you,” he said, “or act inappropriately.”
“No,” I replied. “Absolutely not. John is one of the most respectful, upstanding people I have ever known.” I told the prosecutor about our nature walks in Henlopen State Park. Had he wanted to behave inappropriately, I said, he could have done so then. He did not. “I look up to John,” I said. “I see him as a confidant, sounding board, advocate, but most importantly, a brother. He never lost his temper or behaved aggressively and was always patient with me and my stubborn personality.”
I understand that with the advent of the “Me Too” movement, attitudes toward sexual assault have changed. But as a fifteen-year-old, I did not believe my close friend could have done anything wrong. I was also distraught to see the effects the accusation had on John and his family. He always had a bubbly personality, but the accusations transformed him into a somber, dejected introvert. I hardly saw him smile, and he never wanted to talk anymore. His mother became almost lifeless, like she had detached from her body and was looking at everything from a bystander’s perspective. The only time I would see any type of emotion from her was when she learned of a new finding in the case, which caused her to become more sullen. I could tell she was angry and confused, but it was covered in a layer of sadness. John’s father never talked about the case and he buried himself in his work. I watched as the big Italian family I loved so much collapsed.
A year later the accuser dropped the charges. I was happy for John and his family, but I knew the damage was done. Our weekly “pizza nights” had been phased out months ago, and I was more disconnected from John than ever before. He had been taken off desk duty after the charges were dropped, but I suspect his co-workers looked at him differently. I did not.
I took away from this incident a compelling interest in the legal system. Now, as a senior in college, I understand how a girl could wait so long to tell someone about sexual assault, but as a naïve 16-year-old I was vexed that a person’s life could be destroyed by a single accusation, whether it be true or not. My interest in the law has never waned, and I want more than ever to understand how the legal system works.
I looked at the different sea animals at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, admiring the fancy interior of the building and feeling a sense of accomplishment and freedom as I stood with my friends under the blue hue cast by the water. I had been prepared to sit this traditional 6th grade field trip out because of its $65 cost. My older sister and I had gotten used to forgoing school trips with a price tag; it had become routine for us to instead hear about them the day after from our friends. Despite strategically presenting my researched case to my parents about the value of attending the trip, they turned the proposal down. Determined to experience the fun I had imagined had happened at the other trips, I solved the predicament by speaking to a teacher, who ultimately informed me that the PTA could cover my cost. My seeking out of this key information is what allowed me to take the trip that my sister had to pass up on a few years earlier. During her time, neither she, nor my parents, were quite aware of the systems designed to support low-income families and students, and this lack of knowledge is a curse of the poor.
While I was excited to have ridden on a commercial bus and dine at a P.F. Chang’s that day, tears welled in my eyes throughout the trip whenever I would consider my sister. This instance was the first time that our status as immigrants and first-generation students felt so oppressive. I wanted to share my good fortune with my sister and all the other kids missing out on field trips.
Because of our situation, I needed to make sure everything I ever asked for was financially worth it, and it soon became an enjoyable pastime. I would ponder about, say, the benefits of purchasing a book instead of borrowing it from the library prior to presenting my request to my dad. My family prized my inquisitive, determined, and articulate nature. They became proud possessions and I naturally became the helper of the family. Since the third grade, I have been supporting my older sister through her learning disability in her schoolwork: breaking up her assignments, reading aloud her assigned storybooks when we could not find audio versions, and tutoring her in math. I performed these tasks in addition to my own schoolwork on the public library computers. For my parents, I have been interpreting government documents and researching job listings for them since middle school, transcribing and submitting their resumes.
While I attended university, my father would drive my sister and I to our respective schools. During my freshman year, he was in contact with his English-educated brother as they were discussing selling an old familial property. While I would transcribe his colloquial messages into formal and professional verbiage for the emails, my father would also ask me to analyze what the contracts were stating, the different options possible, and the best financial decision to make regarding selling his share. For those months, I would spend my commutes discovering and interpreting the foundations of contract and property law and doing my father justice over the email app keyboard. I fell in love with this process. It was exciting when I would open 50-page contracts on my father’s smartphone and make sure we agreed to what was stated. I also felt a duty to achieve this proficiency because I could further help my family. I knew my parents were worth so much more than what might meet the eye in a text, or in a conversation in another language, and I was proud I could be there to translate their greatness for this new country.
Further inspired by this past summer’s earnest calls for equality, I fully understand that the struggle that poor and minority families like mine experience can start to be amended with their access to key information, knowledge of various systems, and the ability to navigate them. Law school will assist me in building and acquiring the skills needed to best assist families in successfully settling and securing aspects of their lives in the USA. I know the necessities of accessible and reliable legal help for smooth immigration, as not only have I gone through the process, but many of my relatives have, as well. Being familiar with the value of well-informed decisions and communication in these instances, I am eager to have a career in legal service, and I know I will be best prepared for it at [xx] Law School. I have the necessary and spirited passion, drive, and specific enjoyment of the nitty-gritty. Let me get to a point where I can help as many people as I can.
At my high school graduation, I stood before a crowded sports arena, addressing thousands of people who were eagerly anticipating the words I was about to speak. I was the valedictorian, and my classmates and their families awaited an inspiring farewell address. Nothing in my background suggested that this should have been the climax to my high school career. Teenage moms don’t typically raise daughters that graduate at the top of their class. Most six-year old girls don’t see their mother forcing the bathroom door open to reveal her husband with his pants around his ankles, injecting heroin into his leg to avoid noticeable needle scars, prompting her to chase him out of the house for good. Eight-year old girls aren’t supposed to walk home alone from school to an apartment broken into by that same dad and find the shattered remains of their piggy bank scattered on the floor. Girls aren’t supposed to hang Christmas stockings their dad made for them while in prison.
My mom shouldn’t have been in that arena either. Society expects girls who get pregnant at seventeen to have lives so tumultuous that reality television shows can profit from following them. I remember watching Teen Mom on MTV as a kid and being entertained by the chaotic lives of the teen mothers, all the while oblivious to the dichotomy between my situation and theirs. My mom chose a different reality for herself. She chose to overcome the adversity my early entrance brought into her life. She chose to work late nights waiting tables and graduate from nursing school. My mom made education a top priority in my life, and that undoubtedly contributed to my position at the podium that night. I’m sure most parents in the audience spent many nights at kitchen tables with their kids, working on homework. In fact, most parents likely spent more time helping their kids with school than mine, as she frequently worked nights at the hospital and left me under the supervision of our twelve-year old neighbor. If she worked during the day, she dropped me off at daycare at 6:30 in the morning to wait the final 3 hours until school. She often had to pass me around to her parents, her grandparents, and her great-uncles and aunts. This happened so often, in fact, that it’s still a running joke in the family: I took turns living at everyone’s house but my own.
My mother made a subtler, more profound contribution to my life every day she walked out that apartment door and left me at daycare or in the hands of family. She taught me what success looks like. She showed me how success manifests behind the scenes by making difficult decisions that leave you no other option but to be successful. I know each hour she spent working when she would have preferred to be at home like my classmates’ parents was a sacrifice, and sacrifices form the foundation upon which all achievements are built.
Even though my mother and I weren’t supposed to be anywhere near that podium, a case study of my life would dispute that, not because people with similar backgrounds to my own often attain this level of success, but because I made the choice to be there. My mom made the choice that I would be there. And that was the message I wanted to deliver before my graduating class walked out the arena doors towards the beginning of the rest of our lives. Life is a compilation of choices we make every day. Success rarely explodes into existence in one magnificent eruption, but rather slowly accumulates from repeated discharges of concentrated effort. Success is not accidental, but deliberate, and the most important ability required for success is the ability to see how everyday decisions accumulate. So I urged my classmates to choose to build with each decision they made, to choose to recognize the opportunity for success in these decisions, and eventually to choose to be someone who creates success regardless of the adversity life has dealt them.
I have always struggled to assert my identity. My parents are immigrants to this country, which subjects me to a line of interrogation that starts with a seemingly innocuous question: “Where are you from?” I typically reply that I was born in New York and have lived there my whole life. People push back, trying to satiate their curiosity. “No, I mean, where are you really from?” I stand firm with my answer. “Where are your parents from?” they finally ask, hoping to circumvent my evasive response. Their question demands an explanation for why I appear different than they do. I finally say that my parents are from Hong Kong. “Makes sense,” they’d conclude, satisfied with the answer already confirmed in their minds: I don’t belong here.
There is an implicit assumption that because I look different, I needed to explain how I, with the oriental pigmentation of my skin, rounder facial features, and almond-shaped eyes, ended up here, in the United States. I made a concerted effort in school not to identify myself by my race; people did that to me enough on their own. I wanted to have the freedom to tell people for myself who I was before they made their assumptions, and if the cost was trading in my culture to assume the American one, then so be it. I conformed. I tried to convince my parents to buy me Smucker’s Uncrustables PB&J sandwiches, so I could have the same lunch as rest of my classmates, instead of the homemade fried rice they packed for me every day. I sat with my class instead of the “Asian table.” I choose not to join the Asian cultural clubs but instead cultivated my interest in reading and writing. From the way I dress, to my interest in music or films, I was always careful not to appear too attached to my parent’s country of origin.
I placed my identity on being intelligent, hardworking, and thoughtful – empirical traits that would prove to my peers that I was every bit as American as they were. I used the activities I was involved in to define me. I was the editor of the school newspaper, a varsity fencing athlete, Model UN board member. I assumed these titles, so that when people defined me, they would reach for these descriptors and not my ethnicity first.
But up to this point I had tried to shape my identity against people’s expectations. People presume that by knowing I am Asian, there are certain characteristics I ought to embody. Thus, by the time I was in college, the pressure to fight against these characterizations on every front became overwhelming. Seeking to remove myself from this setting, I accepted an opportunity to live in Ethiopia for two months volunteering at an English school. To no avail, I faced a chorus of locals shouting “China, China” at me every day as I walked to the school. Yet, as I developed a routine for myself practicing English with the students, buying dabo (bread) at the souk around the corner, drinking shayi (tea) with equal parts sugar and milk, I started to understand my identity in a culture that was neither Asian nor American. I was a foreigner with a language the locals wanted to speak and an appearance they relished for its novelty. Where I “come from” will always define me. And it was in Ethiopia, sitting on a worn mat eating injera with my hands, that I was able to accept that expectations will follow me wherever I go. My only choice was whether they would confine me.
Words were the new way I could construct my new identity with a preciseness of definition. I parlayed my skills in presenting other people’s ideas and gave myself a voice. I added nuances to create the distinctions between what people thought of me. I was bold in voicing my opinions in class, not content to be labeled as yet another “meek girl.” I innately could never sit back while incoherent arguments dominated the conversation just because they were presented loudly. I choose English and history as the subjects I would be devoted to, not wanting to be categorized as yet another math and science geek. But I had always valued the flexibility of words over numbers in expressing my ideas.
Identity is about definitions. In this current climate, people are being attacked because they don’t conform to a prescribed American narrative. I believed I had to choose “the American identity” to have a place in this country. Giving a voice to others through the work I have done in human trafficking, interacting with people from different backgrounds than me, with international students and Jewish cultural clubs, I have found a passion for helping people carve out their own identity. The promise that the Constitution offers me as a citizen is that my race does not preclude me from pursuing freedom. I am proud to be American, but I am also proud to be Chinese. I look to law school as a place I can be both, and educate myself on creating the space to allow people their freedom of expression, and in turn, the assurance that whatever their identities, they have do belong and have rights in equal standing before the law.
My Dad always told me we had to remember that it was “Hard to be Mom.” Whenever I was angry that she had locked herself in her bedroom for weeks at a time only to emerge in a manic episode, he would tell me to remember she was sick. Just because Mom didn’t have fever or a cold, it didn’t mean she wasn’t suffering. But I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just get over it. Even after I went to college and studied psychology, I couldn’t get past my anger. I knew there were neurotransmitter imbalances in her brain, but it didn’t make up for all the moments of my life she missed hiding in her bedroom or leaving on lavish vacations my family couldn’t afford. I resented that she refused to take her medications even as her depressive symptoms progressively worsened.
Eventually, she snapped. For thirty-two minutes, I didn’t know if my mother was dead or alive. My dad called to tell me Mom had attempted suicide and been rushed to the hospital. When I arrived at the ER, the nurses told me she had tried to swallow an entire bottle of painkillers. I tried to calm myself by remembering what I learned in psychology classes. They would pump her stomach, have her see a social worker, and put her on suicide watch. She would finally get help.
But she didn’t want help. She told them it was an accident, so the doctors couldn’t hold her more than 24 hours or force her into mental health treatment at the emergency room. She had the right to refuse. But I convinced her to go to the nearby mental hospital for a “routine evaluation.” I told the social worker and psychiatrist my mother would lie about her symptoms and her previous institutionalizations to avoid treatment. Luckily, a psychiatrist committed her against her will. As the doctors walked her away, she screamed that I betrayed her, that I was a horrible son. But for the first time in my life, everything my dad told me about Mom clicked. She tried to kill herself not because she was sad or tired, but because she believed that the world would be better off without her; that I would be better off without her. Her own mind betrayed her and convinced her that she was just a burden. It was just like an auto-immune disease: the body turns on itself. My Mom needed the same support and help I would give to her if she had cancer, or another illness.
The system worked for my mother. The institution got her on a new set of medications, referred her to a new psychiatrist, and helped her for months through an outpatient program. But for so many, the system doesn’t work. Prosecutors without personal experience with mental illness pursue petty criminal charges for people with delusional disorders. Judges sentence people with substance-abuse disorder to years in jail for minor possession, and police officers arrest people with serious mental illness rather than help them to get treatment. Some districts and precincts have tried implementing mental health training and education to some success, but these are not enough. You can try to shove abnormal psychology into every judge, prosecutor, and police officer’s head, but it is a complement, rather than a substitute, for personal experience.
I want to go to law school because I have lived with and loved a person with a serious mental illness. I understand the toll it has on families. I know what it’s like to recommend someone be committed against their will. As a prosecutor, I will use my experience and my law school education to advocate for people to be placed in treatment, rather than in jail. I will help to foster institutions such as drug and mental health courts, where people can get treatment inside the system. People with serious mental illness deserve help, understanding, and compassion. As a lawyer I won’t be able to treat them, but I can make their lives better.
In Khmer, “sai kup leht” translates to “complete woman” and is used to describe a well-mannered, physically graceful woman, who is ever conscious of how she is perceived by others. My mother introduced me to the expression after my unsuccessful wrestling match with my older, larger brother over the TV remote. Generally, she uses the expression to chide me for being impatient or rebellious, and specifically, when I cannot cut mangoes fast enough, which in her hypothetical situations invariably ends in the starvation of my children. While I roll my eyes at every invocation of the expression, I recognize its past significance in defining a Khmer woman’s social role. And then I wonder what my becoming a complete woman will look like.
My mother admits that she is no “sai kup leht” herself, and neither are her sisters, because they are feisty and consult with YouTube on too many recipes (the “complete woman” just knows them). Even my grandmother, raised most closely by the “sai kup leht” ideal, tells me stories of her pre-Khmer Rouge life when she was astute breadwinner and regularly spoke out of turn. She single-handedly raised my mother and aunts, who now balance running small businesses, maintaining finances with and separately from their husbands, and navigating America as confident, ethnic women. They have lived together, shared failures and successes, and created a net of financial security and loyalty. They are complete women, redefined.
Their powerful womanhood threads through my life: my mother, nearing my birthdate, squeezed between showcases at the jewelry store she and my aunts ran; as an elementary-aged child, I napped behind those showcases just out of customers’ lines of sight; and in high school, I worked beside my mother as my grandmother, with limited English-speaking abilities, encouraged customers to buy. I learned to view success in terms of joint efforts that impact the entire family, and what it means to hold purpose beyond myself. Outside of the business place, I have been my family’s translator, interpreting everything from emails to official documents to text emojis (What does the upside-down smiley mean, my mother inquires?); a sort of legal liaison, accompanying my uncle to traffic court when he did not feel confident enough to go alone; mediator, spokesperson, and all-around buffer for their insecurities over cultural and language barriers. This collection of experiences allowed me to hone my interpersonal skills in proximity to the immigrant experience, and prepared me well for the year I worked at an immigration firm.
I also inherited the value system that the women in my life created, one that fuses traditional Khmer values, historically restricting women to the domestic sphere, with progressive American ones of independence and individualism. My mother and aunts urge me to explore all educational opportunities, as they had limited access to them. They emphasize that business savvy combined with attainment of higher education are the surest means of achieving self-fulfillment and distinction within the larger community. Due to their instillations, I am deeply motivated to transpose the role I play in my family and become an advocate for the Khmer-American and other marginalized communities. My aims are reflected in my past decisions to study bioengineering to positively contribute to medicine, and to help international students acclimate to American university life; and in my future goals of forming a non-profit tutoring program while pursuing a career in healthcare policy. A law degree will officialize my voice and help me achieve my goals.
A lifetime of experiences acting as my family’s intermediary has shaped my mind and eyes to be compassionate instruments that aspire to serve communities resembling the ones that my family exists in. The women in my life inspire me to do as they have done, forging awesome networks and relationships, thriving in unfamiliar, multicultural environments, and becoming complete women in their own rights. My successes, academic and professional, are also theirs. They show me that complete woman-ness is a dynamic process, and that by accessing new spaces and gaining representation, we continuously reimagine it. So while I might never possess stellar mango cutting skills, I am nonetheless assured that so long as I continue to strive for my dreams, I am “sai kup leht.”
My teammate blasted a forehand to me while I was in ready position at the net. Suddenly a sharp pain reverberated across my right wrist. My tennis racket tumbled with a clang to the concrete court, and my screech echoed across the tennis complex. I felt petrified as I thought about the future of my tennis career. As a first-semester freshman for a Division 1 team, I had to prove myself to make the starting lineup. An injury meant I would be on the bench for the rest of the season, and beyond that my future would be uncertain. I thought of my Dad throwing balloons to me in our basement when I was three years old. I swatted at them with a small racket that barely fit in my hand. For most of my life tennis was my identity and my passion. In my first semester of college, I was finally living my tennis dream. Until the injury. That night, my call home to my dad was heartbreaking. Instead of telling him about hard-fought practice matches with my new teammates, I tearfully told him that my right wrist was swollen and pain was radiating from the center of my wrist.
A year and a half later, after two surgeries, I was faced with the wrenching realization that my wrist could no longer withstand the high level of performance demanded of a Division 1 tennis player. A ganglion cyst in the center of my wrist was compressing a sensitive nerve. Although the cyst and nerve were surgically removed, I lost flexibility in my wrist, so I could no longer snap it to generate my powerful serve. After 15 years of hard work, my body destroyed my dream of playing college tennis at the worst possible moment.
I was no longer was the girl with a passion for tennis. Each day, I would still call my dad. Instead of talking to him about tennis practice, however, I began telling him stories about an art history class I was taking. Professor Jones lectured in a way that I could only explain as a dance across the room, as her passion for art bounced off the walls of the cinderblock lecture room. I was engrossed as I furiously wrote each of her words into my spiral notebook. My excitement on these calls was apparent. My dad knew the void of my injury was being filled within the walls of Professor Jones’s classroom, and he was excited for me. Instead of telling me to dream of playing college tennis, he told me to dream of a career in art history.
The summer of my junior year, my passion for discussing art history with my dad culminated in the publication of “Neuroanatomical Interpretation of the Painting Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh,” as the cover essay of Neurosurgery , an international journal published by Oxford University Press. My dad and I melded our discussions into a research project that brought together art history and medicine, proposing a diagnosis of epilepsy for van Gogh. Our theory was that the luminous stars and swirling clouds correlated with a transverse section of the parahippocampal gyrus in the hippocampal formation, which are components of the brain’s temporal lobe. This specific area can be the source of hallucinations, déjà vu, delusions, and other symptoms of the madness that possessed Van Gogh, and which manifested in his art. We suggested that subconsciously the artist was, in effect, painting the location of his affliction in Starry Night .
Today, as I continue down my path as an art historian, I know the importance of protecting the creation of all art and cultural heritage. I believe we are living in an era when artists, museums, and even nation-states need lawyers to safeguard artistic achievements. For instance, Greece is fighting for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, which has created a decades-long legal tangle. A lawyer who understands art can collaborate with all of the players in the art world to protect cultural and artistic achievements. Art history is my identity and my passion, and I aspire to bring my knowledge to a career of melding of art and law.
I was sitting on mama’s cold wooden floor by my father’s bedside. Her demeanor was uneasy as she handed me the phone. I grabbed it and excitedly screamed, “Hola papa, como estas?” Then I rushed to my next question. “Papa, cuando vienes?” I heard pain in his voice as he responded to this thirteen-year-old girl, “I am fine.” I asked again, “Dad, when are you coming back?” He replied, “Muy pronto.” I was unsatisfied with this answer so I persisted, but he would only say, “No se mijita.” Choked up by my tears, I knew this cry would echo in my mind for a lifetime. I handed the phone back to my mother and asked, “How could he not know when he was returning?” I could not understand how a man who got up for work at four in the morning and worked all day to provide for his family could have been taken away by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This incident marked me indelibly and forever shaped the woman I am today.
The first time I entered a court room for my father’s case, I heard the prosecutor use words such as “flight risk” and “deportation order.” My father had created a stable family and a construction company, and he had many connections in our home in Prince George’s County. Nevertheless, my father was trapped in this immigration system that imposed enormous hardships on my family. Our everyday rituals had been completely altered, but we eventually adapted. Between the immigration court proceedings in Virginia, my mother would drive three hours so my two siblings and I could have a thirty-minute visitation with my father in the Hampton Roads detention center. For two years, I would walk down a line of glass windows where strangers appeared until I would see my father’s smiling face. With the phone connected to the glass, I would give him updates on my grades and what I had learned in class. After these visitations, my father sent us letters and drawings of our family. When we returned home from our visits, my mother reminded us to stay strong because this was the card we were dealt. To support us during his absence, she became a dog sitter and a babysitter, and she cleaned houses during the day and a doctor’s office at night. My siblings and I helped after school. Her strength empowered me to pursue my dreams.
When I started high school, I felt isolated because no one was talking about their father’s immigration status. At that time there was very little media coverage of this issue. My teachers and classmates did not understand how my father’s immigration status had become in many ways the center of my life. At the age of 15, I wanted to start a venture that would help individuals trapped in the injustices of the U.S. Immigration system. I reached out to my high school teachers and received county funding for an after-school tutoring program for ESOL students who wanted to enhance their education. Many of these students skipped school because they worked to support their families, and often they had to choose between school or work. The more I was consumed by their hardships and my own, the more I realized I wanted to become a lawyer so I could provide legal help to these students and their families.
By the time I graduated high school, I had learned the legal basis for my father’s detainment. He came here legally as a teenager and overstayed his visa, so he had a deportation order. Twenty years later, the order remained, and because of that, as a thirteen-year-old I saw two ICE agents handcuff him and haul him off in a van to a detention center at five in the morning. I was bewildered that the U.S. government would detain my father who had contributed so much to this country. Learning my father’s case consumed me with passion, and I wanted to do something about it. In college, I reached a turning point when I read Phyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court case addressing a Texas statue that withheld state funds for education of children not “legally admitted.” The court ruled that this statue violated the 14 th Amendment, citing Justice William Brennan’s opinion in Brown v. Board of Education : “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments…”
But discussing the law abstractly does not convey the damage the U.S. immigration system inflicts on families like my own. For two years as a young teenager I had to endure my father’s absence. Thankfully my father has been released, but in the current political climate I must worry that my extended family members may not be so lucky. This institutionalized injustice has to change. Obtaining a legal education would allow this twenty-one-year old woman to devote her professional life to that change.
I reach into the cab to grab my legal pad, and slam the car door shut. The warm Orlando sun immediately reminds me that I am no longer in Delaware. As my team and I walk towards the hotel ballroom, I see the hundreds of competitors sporting their university’s colors funneling into the rows of seats. “Welcome to the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship Tournament,” says the law school dean. It’s time to introduce ourselves. The line to the stage is shorter and shorter, and I peer out into the crowd in search of a familiar face, and I see my teammates, smiling, mouthing my name, but I can’t hear a thing. It’s my turn. I step onto the stage, and the ballroom, just moments ago filled with inaudible voices, becomes silent. I lean into the microphone. “My name is John Doe, and I am the president of University of Delaware Mock Trial.”
I wanted to be just like my dad. I looked up to him – the way he talked, the way he saw the world; he was my hero. We would talk for hours after dinner about his upcoming trial, about a suppression motion he had argued that day, or about a cop he had cross-examined earlier that week. I did not understand most of what he told me; after all, I was still in elementary school. And although I could barely see over the bar the first time my dad took me to see a real trial in a real courtroom, I knew I was where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a lawyer.
My mom’s habit of scrolling through the morning announcements posted on my high school’s website and reading them aloud was a nightly routine. “The mock trial club has a meeting this Tuesday,” she shouted one night from her bedroom. Despite my desire to apply to law school, I ignored her; adjusting to a new school was challenging enough. But she was persistent. “One meeting. Give it a chance.” I agreed.
I was given a binder filled with affidavits, legal documents, and exhibits. My team was to portray attorneys and witnesses, cross-examine opposing witnesses, make objections, and argue in front of scoring judges seated in the jury box. My team would compete in these mock trials against other schools. I was immediately fixated. Before I knew it, I was a sophomore, and named captain of the team. I recruited friends to join, we won tournaments, and by my senior year we were the Philadelphia city champions, finishing second in the state of Pennsylvania, the most successful team in school history.
There was no greater feeling than standing in front of a panel of judges and delivering a closing argument, or sitting down at counsel table after an effective cross-examination. And now, instead of peering over the bar at my dad, it was my dad watching me. I would hear him whispering to my mom during trial, pleading with me to object to the other side’s question or commenting approvingly to my mom after a strong performance. He was the first person I spoke to after trial. “Did you like my opening, dad? What did you think of that judge?” Now, our conversations about trial were just that, and they were serious, detailed and argumentative. They were perfect.
While my mom was interested in the size of the dorms and prices of meal plans during college visits, I only had one question for our tour guide. “Does your school have a mock trial team?” By the end of my freshman year at the University of Delaware, I was made captain. Made up of only seven students, the team was struggling. Despite this, I was not deterred. I continued poring over the case, offering new case theories, and working to help my team become competitive. By my sophomore year, things started to change. At the end of that season, I was elected president of the entire club, which has continued into my senior year. We had evolved into an organization of over thirty members that I had recruited, with a coaching staff that I had put together and more support from the university than ever before. During my junior year, I led my team to win all four trials at the Opening Round Championship Series in Philadelphia, earning an invitation to the National Championship Tournament for the first time in school history.
My time as a mock trial competitor is quickly coming to a close. When I reflect on the person that I was before high school, I realize the impact that mock trial has had on me. It has taught me to be a more effective speaker, an engaged listener, a more approachable teammate. It has taught me that hard work is the most important predictor of success. From the time I first peeked into a courtroom as a child, to just earlier this year, energetically stepping out of that cab and into the federal courthouse in Orlando, I have watched myself evolve into the person I have always strived to emulate, my dad. And over the last eight years, the law, like him, has already left an indelible footprint on my life. I am ready now, ready to give back to the law what it has already given to me.
When I was young, I used to fall asleep to the sound of the crickets chirping. Sound nice? It wasn’t. They were spider-like cave crickets and they weren’t outside. They were living down there with me, lurking in the corners, hiding under my bed, terrorizing me.
My earliest memories take place in a rundown basement apartment, where I lived with my mom, dad and the cave crickets. It was all we could afford and I was told to be grateful for it. My parents weren’t completely at fault. They did try, but were caught in a cycle of American poverty that has been drowning the lower class for generations. My great-grandparents were teen parents. Both of my grandparents were teen parents and my parents followed suit. For as long as memory allows, I’ve known nothing but the desire to escape.
My father was born to a single mother in the 70s. His mother and the multiple men that came in and out of their lives were addicts and alcoholics. He lived mostly with his grandfather, my namesake, until he died of lung cancer when my dad was fourteen, leaving him without a home. He moved from place to place with only enough energy to continue rather than improve his situation. His troubled life became even more complicated when he too became a father at the age of eighteen. He was faced with the easy choice of leaving, like his father had done, or he could sweep up any sort of foundation that he could muster from the rubble of his past and attempt to build a life for us. I will be forever grateful he chose the latter.
This is the station I was born into, two teenage parents, no home, and no stability. With no father of his own, mine could only try to piece together what he thought a dad should be. For him, this meant providing a home, food and clothes, all of the things that had been so scarce to him. He took as many jobs as he could find; working in the freezer of a chicken factory, giving baths to the elderly at nursing homes, and doing handyman work in the fraction of free time he had left. Dad was gone to work before I woke up and didn’t get back most nights until after I was back in bed.
Starting school freed me from the run down basement, but I was different from the other kids and I knew it. I was the poor kid. Everyone else had Legos and Imaginext in their toy boxes. They went on trips over their breaks and always had stories to tell. For me, none of this was possible. None of this was affordable. And it made me awkward and nervous.
In 2002, “Star Wars Episode II” came to theaters and every boy in the class saw it except me. Star Wars backpacks, stickers, pencils, posters and snacks seemed to be forever circling around me, yet always out of my reach. When my classmates recounted the scenes, I listened closely to absorb every detail so that I could pretend I had seen it too. One day while shopping with my mom, I glanced hope. It was a plain white t-shirt with the words, “Star Wars” printed across the chest. I begged my mom to buy it for me and she caved right before checkout. I was ecstatic, believing this would be everything required to finally be like everyone else. When we got home, my dad helped unpack the groceries. He pulled the shirt out of one of the bags. “He’s already got enough clothes,” Dad grouched, “it’s going to have to be returned, we can’t afford it.” I sank down on my bed, all hopes of a brighter future seemingly crushed.
When I was finally old enough to understand the despair that had gripped my childhood, I decided I could either succumb to the vulturous cycle of poverty, or I could tear its hooks out of my skin and pursue a better life. My dad’s constant work and sacrifice built a stairway just high enough for me to see over the gates that confined me. Now, it is my quest to continue the climb and fight my way out. I have promised myself that no matter what, I will do whatever it takes to succeed so that my children will be the first in my family not born into poverty.
I am determined to work hard and take advantage of every opportunity afforded to me. I am determined to be the difference for the countless children struggling to stay afloat. I believe a career in law will give me the opportunity and strength to pull back the curtains, giving light to all those born into the shadows of poverty, so they too may see the path to a brighter future.
The gust of wind rippled across my partially zipped-up jacket, a consequence of being hurriedly slipped on. The chill was intense, but I hardly noticed; I was already numb from the heart wrenching ache that originated deep in my core. “Can I just-…” I tried to offer an apology but the door slammed in my face. I tried the handle, but it was locked. You’re just like your father . My mother’s parting words cut deeply into my psyche. I trudged down the front steps, shivering in the cold. I threw the single stuffed backpack that was slung around my shoulder into my car and drove off into darkness.
Some people might say the family experience they are most thankful for is an especially joyous holiday, birthday, or family gathering. Mine is the day my mother stopped putting up with my crap and kicked me out into the cold.
I had a very privileged childhood but not a happy one. My parents were both lawyers, and their marriage was adversarial . My father was brilliant: a mathematician turned legal professional. He had a booming personality, and his occasional guffaw would echo across the house. However, he had underlying anger issues, and alcoholism abetted his explosive temper. While equally brilliant, my mother was thoughtful and introverted. She cared immensely for my sister and me, but was forced to become the only breadwinner after my father lost his job. As home stresses worsened and my parents drifted apart, I gravitated towards marijuana abuse.
In high school I tried especially hard to defy the image of the “nerd” I had cultivated after eight years at the city’s magnet elementary and middle schools. I threw parties, ditched school early (that is, when I even bothered to show up), and continued to abuse drugs. When I was 16, my parents finally divorced. I was relieved by the cessation of hostilities, but was also enabled as my parents competed to see who could create a more permissive environment since custody would influence the division of wealth. Shortly thereafter I dropped out of high school due to excessive truancy, subsequently obtaining my GED while turning to more hardcore drugs. I worked as a dishwasher, then busboy, and eventually waited tables as the financial support of my disappointed and exasperated mother waned.
Then, after a particular nasty argument in the winter of 2014, I found the door to my mother’s house slammed in my face. With nowhere to go, I drove and drove and drove. For a while, the high of the drugs compensated for the low of disappointing the person I loved the most, but such a life was unsustainable. I slept out of my car or occasionally on a friend’s couch, and I showered at the rec center.
Six months later, I was reading Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Camus, and a philosophically nihilistic disposition paired with untreated, self-medicated depression. My life felt worthless. Then something broke through the haze of drug addiction and self-loathing. On a hot day in the middle of July, I found myself again standing at the door to the security I had previously taken for granted. I knocked once. No answer. Why would there be? I was my father’s child, a man who had abused those around him. My insecurities bounced through my head as I descended the front steps for the last time. Or so I thought. The door opened, and I saw my mom. “John?” she asked. My voice broke, “I’m so sorry. I-…I don’t want to be like dad. I love you. I want to be better.” We embraced and cried in each other’s arms.
A year later I began attending community college, and the rest I’ll leave to my CV.
I’m thankful for my mother’s expulsion because it forced me to come to terms with the idea that her love is a necessary but insufficient condition for improving myself. Her decision to make me go was the day I started to arrive at a self-awareness of my underachievement, and I started to appreciate the potential that I’ve been gifted. To be frank, I’m still unsure what exactly I intend to do with a law degree. I could see myself doing guardian ad litem work, just as my mother did in her early career, advocating for children who have neither privilege nor happiness. I could see myself drafting legislation regarding alimony, which can punish spouses who bear the financial obligations in a marriage. Even more, I want success in the field, so I can help my mother live comfortably after working so hard for me and my sister for so long. I also want to be able to provide for my future family, with whom I intend to be a man that laughs loudly but doesn’t dish out the physical and emotional abuse. I hope to deliver the news of my acceptance to law school along with this statement to my mother. She will look at me and I will resemble my father, but she will know: I’m not just like my father – I will be much better .
“You keep your seat on this horse, O.K.?” The older cowboy looked up with hint of misgiving behind his eyes as the horse danced under me.
I gathered my reins in one hand and answered with calm confidence, “I can ride him.” I’m not sure if my response assured him, but my boss nodded brusquely and moved to help a guest in front of me.
Two days ago Sam had bolted with a guest, dumping him soundly, before he then bucked off the wrangler who was sent to ride him back. The emergency code – “ Estes Base, do you have a copy?” – had come buzzing over our radios, and dropping the bridle of a guest’s horse, I’d sprinted across the barnyard to head off the runaway horse.
Now Sam danced skittishly as we waited for our guest riders to fall into line along the fence rail. Wranglers on the ground explained the basics of western riding to first time trail riders: pull right to go right, left to go left, back to stop .
As we began our ride up the eastern ridge of the Colorado Rockies, Sam eyed me suspiciously. Passing the campground he quivered and spooked, but then he settled into the climb as we headed up the switchbacks. At the front, lead wrangler Jones engaged guests in friendly conversation: a German father riding with his two daughters, and some businesswomen out for adventure. The sun was warm as we climbed the two-hour trail, and I had settled in with Sam by the time we were reaching the last few miles.
Rounding the bend into a meadow, it happened. Without warning Sam lurched forward into a dead run. My seat stayed in the saddle even as my mind whiplashed to catch up. I heard Jones shouting frantically “Pull back! Pull back!” to the rest of the line as their horses took off in solidarity.
In the chaos, my mind remained clear. A bolting horse can be curbed by directing it into a large circle, cutting off a dead run into a manageable situation. With strong leg and rein, I began working him into an arc, but we were quickly heading for a steep downhill studded with jagged rocks and sporadic pines. And in that moment, Sam shifted. Suddenly we were no longer a trail horse and rider, but an animal running with wild abandon who could not care less about the person on his back. Cutting off this horse would require my full separation from the guests in mayhem behind me, and as my responsibility was to them and not this horse’s training, I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and, committed to the decision, dove off the side.
The crash landing felt like somersaulting in an ocean wave, minus the water. At the mercy of pure velocity, I catapulted headlong and desperately prayed I wouldn’t jolt onto rocks. Grabbing desperately at bushes, I finally skidded to a stop and instantly hopped up, thoughts focused on my guests.
Jones thundered by, pulling furiously at his out of control horse. Two other riders had already passed; three were charging straight towards me. Throwing my arms wide, I forced my shaky legs into confident strides towards the agitated horses. Catching the bridle of the German father’s horse, I pulled it into a controlled walk while trying to infuse calm into the panicking father whose daughter was out of sight on a bolting horse.
Stumbling downhill, dragging back on a horse trying to join his fellows, I refused the instinctual panic at what we might find at the bottom of the hill and how then to help the father if we encountered the worst. But in a moment there she was – sitting upright, shaky but seemingly okay. I gave her a first aid once over, and then as we waited for the rescue team, I told stories of my own mishap riding adventures, helping them normalize the situation. It was not until father and daughters were safely in the truck headed to the barn that I felt the stinging across my own face that would leave a good-looking cowboy scar for the rest of the summer. But I counted it a success that Sarah – I found out her name talking at the bottom of the hill –wrote on her incident report that she still loved horses.
What I told Sarah wasn’t lies. Horses aren’t ATVs. They are living breathing animals that will at times act unpredictably. A rider must know how to respond in unpredictable times. In the moment, my thinking was clear and my decisions purposeful. To remain calmly confident in an unpredictable and high-risk situation are the skills of a good rider. They are also the skills of a good lawyer. We must prepare and research, just as riders must train for years in the ring. Yet when it comes time to go into action – to ride – you have only yourself. It’s time to ride.
Stanley was four years old but looked two and a half; he had a bloated belly, no muscle tone, and a protruding collar bone. He showed no interest in anything and lacked both the curiosity and energy of a typical toddler. If you tried to talk to him, he would simply stare at you with a blank look in his eyes. I met Stanley while visiting Haiti, where he was living in a safe-house with ten other boys. His mother was suffering from severe psychological issues and his father had died in an earthquake.
On my trip to Haiti, our goal was to help teach English to the boys at this safe-house. However, Stanley was too young to participate in the lessons, so I volunteered to keep him busy while the other boys worked. I immediately established a connection with him and made it my goal to give him the attention he deserved. I wanted so badly to see this sad little boy smile.
On the last day of my trip, I finally got my wish. As a reward for working so hard throughout the week, we took the boys to the beach to celebrate our last day in Haiti. Stanley and I played in the sand for hours and eventually made our way toward the ocean. Stanley seemed scared, but he held my hand as I moved forward inch by inch. Soon we were jumping over the waves and splashing around. Before I knew it, Stanley was smiling and laughing. This was how a four year old was supposed to look: happy and innocent. Though I had finally gotten my wish to see him smile, it broke my heart to know that the next day I would be on a plane back to Delaware and Stanley would stay at the safe-house, neglected and lonely.
When I took a job as a camp counselor a few months later, I was faced with the sad reality that problems of child neglect were not isolated to third world countries. Though I worked just forty minutes from my home in Massachusetts, I had campers that came every day without lunch or water. Others wore the same outfit all week, no matter how sweaty or dirty their clothes became. Many would come in with bruises, black eyes, broken bones, and burn marks all over their bodies. These sweet little five-year-olds would tell me horror stories about how mom and dad didn’t like them and would hurt them if they were bad. While it was my responsibility to report these injuries and to make sure my campers felt safe for the few hours they were at camp, at the end of the day I had to send them home to parents that I knew would abuse and neglect them. I was powerless; there was nothing I could do beyond the confines of camp except report the problems and hope someone took care of them. On the last day of camp, when one little boy asked if he could come live with me because he was scared to go home, I broke down in tears.
These children all lived very different lives, but they had one thing in common: the adults in their lives had let them down. Stanley was severely underdeveloped because his mother had neglected him. My campers were terrified because they were abused by the very people they relied on to love and care for them.
Though I’ve never faced these hardships, I realize that there are thousands of other children who have. None of these children have a voice to speak out against the atrocities bestowed upon them; they are essentially helpless. Thankfully, I have been dealt a different hand – one that consists of an education, a conscience and the opportunity to create change. I feel a responsibility to these children; an obligation to give them the voice they’ve never had. Through law, I believe that I can carry out this obligation and fulfill the promise I made to myself when I decided that I simply could not turn my back on these children’s struggles.
“She’s missing.” These were the words my mother whispered to me, with bloodshot eyes and tears running down her face. These were the words that I repeated in my head and that echoed repeatedly for the next couple of months. Words that would later turn into “She’s dead. Sarah is gone.”
My sister went missing the weekend of Super Bowl XLIII in 2009. My mother received a call from her ex-fiancé saying she had not come home in days and he was leaving her and taking their kids to Georgia. This was a major red flag. My sister loved her kids more than anything and would never leave them. My mother began to panic. My sister was not answering her phone, and a winter storm was brewing in upstate New York. There was an unsettling feeling in the air as fear sank in. I was sent to live with my aunt as the next few months were filled with news reports, missing person flyers, search parties, prayer services at church, and many tears of anguish and grief. As spring emerged on the horizon and the snow began to melt, a confession halted everything. My sister’s ex-fiancé, the father to her three kids, admitted to murdering her in a rage. With that, my world fell apart. My sister, my hero, the person I looked up to was gone, and she was not coming back.
My sister was 16 years older than me and losing her felt like I had lost my mom. At 12 years old, I fell into a major depression, and I wanted to give up. I was no longer that carefree and bubbly girl everyone knew. I became quiet and reserved, I would not eat, and I was filled with anger. The trial of my sister’s ex-fiancé took a toll on my family. My mother cried every day. Even as she tried to shelter me from this storm. She did not want me in the courtroom, witnessing the graphic details of my sister’s death. When my sister’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison, my mother worked tirelessly to gain custody of my nieces and nephew. This agonizing situation suddenly had a little light at the end of the tunnel. As I adjusted to having my nieces and nephew living with us, I realized that I had to be strong if not for myself, then for them. I may have lost my sister, but they lost both their parents. While my mother spent hours commuting to and from work, I had to get my nieces and nephew ready for school, help them with their homework, and at times, make them dinner and put them to bed. I had to be mature and strong for them. My nieces and nephew taught me how to be resilient and how to persevere in the face of adversity. They depended on me and looked up to me. We became each other’s guiding lights.
I believed my sister was watching over us, and I would make her proud by making sure my nieces and nephew did the right things in life. I threw myself into my studies and joined many extracurricular activities in high school to ensure I had a competitive college application. I took several AP courses and maintained an A average in them all. I volunteered to be a math and Spanish tutor, became the editor of our school newspaper, and joined different sports teams. When the time came to apply for college and choose a major, I chose Psychology. I wanted to have a better understanding of why people did the things they do, and I wanted to help other families cope with the same situations I had endured. A large part of me thought by going into Psychology, I could understand why my sister was murdered. But in the end, my studies helped me realize I may never understand the emotions behind it, and I should not try to. Attempting to understand the psychological motives behind something this horrible is impossible. I was continuously reopening a wound I was so desperately trying to close.
As I have learned how to cope with my grief and deal with closure, I have come to realize that the best way for me to help other families is to fight for them. I want to help other families receive justice and closure, by being a prosecutor and fighting on their behalf.
Playing outside with her three siblings, a girl was suddenly grabbed by her older sister and plunged into the small pond near the edge of her family’s home. She gasped for breath and fought against the restraints of her sister’s arms, but she couldn’t rise to the surface. While it may have seemed like her older sibling was trying to drown her, she was in fact saving her life. Up above, Pakistani fighter jets flew by. These planes were known for picking off their enemy, regardless of age, gender, or religion.
A few miles up the way, a boy woke in the middle of the night and fled his home with his family to avoid being killed by the approaching Pakistani Army. With only the clothes on their backs, they escaped to their grandmother’s house in a nearby province to hide while the war raged on. During this period where food and medicine became scarce, the boy and his family starved and lost one of their sons to malnutrition. When the family returned, they found their house looted and partially destroyed. They had to rebuild from virtually nothing.
My parents survived the 1971 genocide of Bangladesh. Three hundred thousand to 500,000 Bengali’s were massacred, raped, and displaced during the 8 months the Pakistani army invaded the country. Our people were fighting to save our language from Pakistan’s to erase our national identity. Eventually we won the war and established the nation of Bangladesh.
In 1980s my father was granted asylum in the U.S., and that allowed my mother to come to the States. In NYC my father worked as a taxi driver, and while doing that he tried to educate himself. He had only a third-grade education in East Pakistan – public schools did not exist there, and he had to go to work as a clerk at age 8 while overcoming polio. Even so he earned his General Education Diploma in America. Soon he began working for Wachovia as a loan officer. My mom was a housewife who raised me and my brother.
My brother and I were raised to embrace my Bengali heritage. I didn’t speak English until I was in kindergarten because my parents wanted us to preserve our roots. After all, East Pakistan fought a war to preserve its language. Pakistan wanted those in what it called East Pakistan to stop speaking the language. That would erase our national identity and allow Pakistan to absorb us. But we fought back so ferociously that eventually Pakistan gave up.
My parents instilled in us a tremendous pride in what our people accomplished. We celebrated the Bengali New Year by dressing up in traditional clothing. For me that was a Sari, a long piece of red fabric that was draped around me. Music was a major part of our culture, so we listened to Bengali music played on a sitar and a harmonium. After the fasting month of Ramadan, we celebrated Eid, a three-day Muslim holiday. One of our pillars in our religion was that we should perform charitable acts, and the more successful we become, the more you can give back.
But my Muslim religion had a negative side as well, and that is the expectation that women should stay home and raise a family rather than pursue a career. This did not mean I should not have an education. It only meant that my role was pre-defined as that of wife and mother. I rebelled against that. I told my parents I would not marry at age 18 as they expected. I refused to circulate a bio data resume, which is essentially a portfolio for marriage. In fact, I was insulted by the very idea that I should be auctioned off like cattle. Even now, at 22 years of age, my parents will not allow me to date, so I have had to live a double life in my relationships with men.
Although I’m proud of my national identity, I identify as an American now. In fact, I hope to change Bengali attitudes toward child marriages – soon I will travel to my motherland to educate those who believe their girls should marry at 13. As a lawyer, I will continue trying to rectify this sort of unfairness, and I looking forward to doing that through the U.S. legal system.
On August 28 th , 2005, I had just turned twelve years old and was en route to see The Rolling Stones for my first concert. During the car ride from Wellesley Island, New York to Ottawa, Ontario, everyone was anxiously predicting what songs The Stones would play and in what order. The first thing we saw when we arrived was a one-man band playing “Honky Tonk Women” with an accordion, harmonica, and kick drum. Most people, including myself, were proudly wearing t-shirts sporting the provocative, red tongue logo. We found our seats, which were by no means close to the stage, but when the pyrotechnics began, we could feel the heat from the flames on our skin. I looked up at my mother with a huge grin. By the beaming smile on her face, I could tell she was as excited as I was to finally see her favorite band perform. From the opener “Start Me Up” to the closer “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It),” we sang along.
From an early age, music has been important to me. I was raised on my parents’ classic rock recordings of The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and what was probably a little too much Jimmy Buffett. I would spend hours poring over their collection of CD’s, cassette tapes, and vinyl records. Over time, my musical palate evolved beyond that of the typical Parrot Head (the name given to members of the Jimmy Buffett fan club) to include genres varying from country to hip-hop, just to name a few, and my method of listening evolved from CDs to iPods.
My own experience mirrors the changing music industry. Fans can watch their favorite artists perform on television or through a live stream on the internet, but these broadcasts can adversely affect ticket sales. Similarly, digital music is expanding with companies such as Apple, Pandora, and Spotify; but this leads to a decrease in physical music sales such as CD’s. Another music digitalization consequence is the quality and ease with which music can be copied, leading to greater concern over piracy and copyright infringement. The heavy metal band Metallica is known for their legal efforts to combat piracy such as when they sued file-sharing service Napster. Radiohead went in the opposite direction by offering their album In Rainbows using a “pay-what-you-want” model. Regardless of approach, I intend to use the law to assist artists and consumers in dealing with these changes.
I have already gained experience through an internship with the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies (AARC), a non-profit organization that collects and distributes home-taping royalties to musicians and copyright owners. Through the internship, I became familiar with home-taping royalty collection worldwide. I also assisted with complex copyright lawsuits. At issue in one case was whether in-car recording device manufacturers need to pay royalties for their product production. The manufacturers believed their products deserve a royalty exemption, similar to MP3 players, while AARC disagreed. Another case involved what constitutes being a featured artist on a recording in order to receive royalty payments for that recording. My experience with AARC has reaffirmed my aspiration to practice law.
Attending [university name] will allow me to follow my desired career path. [Continue on about each university’s specific qualities that make it a good choice for what I want to study]. Obtaining a law degree will grant me opportunities to pursue what I love and I am looking forward to beginning the next process in my academic and professional careers.
It was almost midnight, and my thumb hovered over the green button on my phone. The number was already dialed. I just couldn’t decide whether to actually call it. The website said the Sexual Offense Support office was open twenty-four hours, and I didn’t have to be a victim to call. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had no right to call if I weren’t a victim. My best friend was the victim, so what authority did I have to be upset on her behalf?
I remained in shock for almost a month after I went to the local movie theater with Jane over spring break, where she told me about her sexual assault at a party. She was dancing with friends whom she trusted, so when one of them led her away from the group, she went with him. He pulled her into the bathroom and locked the door. She was too drunk to fight him when he started taking off her clothes. She only remembered fragments of what he had done after that, but she knew she had to go to the police for a rape kit, which would ultimately confirm the assault.
After talking to Jane in the theater, I distractedly stuck to my usual academic routine for the next few weeks, but almost every night I would either call Jane to check in or call my mother to cry. After the latter, I would agonize about how selfish it was to shed tears over an assault that wasn’t mine. But I didn’t know what else to do. I had never felt so helpless. I was just Jane’s friend from high school. I couldn’t say or do anything to miraculously erase her trauma. I couldn’t even help her in her quest for justice because the district attorney told her they would leave the investigation to her college. I envisioned driving up to her college to shout at the college investigators, “Jane’s my best friend and she’s telling the truth,” but I knew it wasn’t a real option. I wasn’t a witness, or even a student there. Ultimately, her college found her assailant guilty and handed down his punishment: a request that he transfer. Jane was more surprised by the verdict than the so-called punishment. Over the course of the investigation, school administrators attempted to undermine her story with questions about her clothing and her conduct at the party. She was relieved that they ultimately believed her, regardless of her assailant’s punishment.
As a last resort, I thought I could move past my frustrations and fears by venting them aloud, so I considered calling Sexual Offense Support at my university. As I struggled with the decision, I glanced back at the website open on my laptop. I noticed an “Apply” tab and clicked on it. My phone lay forgotten beside me, the call button unpressed. As I perused the instructions for applying to work as a victim advocate, I realized how I could combat my constant feelings of helplessness. I may not have been able to help Jane, but I could help others. Anger and sorrow had been draining me for weeks – but I could channel emotion into action.
I looked into the sexual assault support programs and rallies on my campus. I attended documentary screenings, student rallies, and my first Take Back the Night march. I volunteered for the campus gender equality organization. When I left campus for a semester abroad, I became a volunteer translator for Warriors Japan, an advocacy group that supports survivors in Japan. All the while, I continued to send Jane a flurry of supportive messages
Never before had I felt such urgency to act. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever I did, I couldn’t help Jane get justice. This has spurred me toward a legal career. Before Jane’s assault, I had been interested in law due to my experience with international law courses and my fascination with interpreting legal language. Now I have another reason: I want a career that would give me the power to effect change. In Jane’s case, maybe her story would have had a more satisfying ending if she could have pursued criminal charges. I don’t know why the district attorney decided not to pursue her case, but it seems worth it to at least attempt to bring charges for such a heinous crime. And if it were me, I know I would.
The priority red line flashed across the laptop screen at 11:45 pm. “Shots fired,” sounded on the radio. The car lurched forward as it accelerated to 90 miles per hour down the long, dark, narrow street. My heartbeat accelerated and my seat belt pressed tightly to my chest, suppressing my rapidly beating heart. If perpetrators are visualized, shots will be fired and I will be banished into the floor of the police cruiser, tucked in the fetal position.
Yellow caution tape defined the perimeter. Emergency vehicles parked at staggered angles. Red lights flashing. Sirens droning. A plethora of officials were tending to their respective responsibilities. After the scene was declared inactive, we approached the victim lying face down in the street, bleeding from three bullet wounds: one in his right arm, one in his left arm, and one in his lower back. After assuring him the ambulance would arrive momentarily, the lieutenant briefed us as we surveyed the chalked off areas. Next, we documented the bullet fragments and shell casings, counting forty. This shooting was another turf war between rival gangs over drugs, one of many in this crime-ridden part of town. I looked around and noticed faces in windows and on every porch. They seemed interested, but not alarmed. This was their reality. My adrenaline level was elevated to match my heart rate. Seven hours had elapsed in what felt like one.
As I recounted my ride along with the Wilmington Police in my oral presentation to Professor Jones’s class, I could feel the resurgence of my emotions mixed with the realization that a passion had been ignited. I flashed back to the beginning of the semester. Professor Jones had seventy-five sleep deprived, unemotional faces staring back at him until he waved a crisp ten-dollar bill. With our curiosity piqued, he promised ten dollars for every perfect exam score.
Upon completion of my oral presentation, Professor Jones motioned me to approach his desk. He recognized me as the only student to achieve an overall perfect score in his course and to empty his wallet simultaneously. He inquired about my plans for graduate or law school and was shocked I had not yet chosen an undergraduate major. Because of my demonstrated potential, he encouraged me to further pursue a major in Criminal Justice, which would place me on a trajectory to attend graduate or law school.
The three crisp ten-dollar bills I received from Professor Jones were spent on coffee and bagels; however, they represented so much more than perfect scores and pocket money. An increased confidence, sense of direction, and subsequent conversations with Professor Jones, solidified my educational direction in Criminal Justice and the foundation for my post-graduate plans.
To further my interest in the field, I accepted an internship with the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office. Instead of the stereotypical intern fetching coffee, I attended weekly misdemeanor court, learned to write 710.30 notices, helped prepare warrants, and determined if files were sufficient. Three weeks into my internship, I even witnessed the prosecution of a Class A felony, a woman on trial for the murder of her mother-in-law.
On the day of the trial, I approached the courthouse where several media trucks and crews were lined up jockeying to get the best vantage point and latest statement. This case encompassed pre-meditation, co-conspirators spanning several states and countries, a 4 million dollar motive, and a plot conceived by the murdered woman’s family. I hesitantly entered the courtroom and the judge instructed my fellow interns and me to take seats in the jury box. The tension in the courtroom was palpable. The daughter of the decedent excused herself, unable to hear the details of her mother’s murder. The son-in-law, leaning over the bar, shouted so violently at the co-conspirator that the court officers had to restrain him. This was a real life drama unfolding before my eyes. Hearing a human being plead “guilty” and say “I choked her with the pocketbook strap” to describe how she assisted in the taking another human being’s life will forever be ingrained in my mind.
The culmination of these experiences, the coursework, and my instructors along the way has left me with a unique sense of the law. When I reflect on the person I was my freshmen year of college, I realize I had no educational direction and no real sense of who I was as a person. Subconsciously I was searching for a focus that aligned with my values of respect, empathy, commitment, and justice. Through the combination of knowledge and experience, I realize these values are all personified in a lawyer.
After years of disappointment, my aunt carried a child to full term. I was excited when she went into labor because I would have another cousin to play with. But I wasn’t allowed to see him when he was born. No one was. He was airlifted to another hospital before my aunt could even hold him.
At first my family and I believed John’s brain damage was an accident. No one could have prevented it. But, this was far from the truth. When my aunt went into labor, her regular doctor was on vacation, which left her at the mercy of an on-call doctor. She was cared for by a surgical resident who was not trained in the United States. This meant she could not communicate with my aunt. The on-call doctor showed no concern when the resident informed him of the baby’s irregular heart-beat. When my aunt voiced her concerns, the on-call doctor insisted that she wait to deliver until he arrived at the hospital and assured her that he was on his way. By the time he arrived, the baby’s heartbeat bottomed out and he had to perform an emergency C-section without sedation outside of an operating room, which put mother and child at even more of a risk. When John was born, he didn’t cry and he was blue. Neonatologists worked on his limp body for 9 minutes, until a needle of epinephrine injected into his chest revived him. But it was too late. The lack of oxygen to the neural tissue caused swelling that impeded on his underdeveloped skull, causing him to hemorrhage and suffer massive brain damage.
After a month in the Intensive Care Unit at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, John was released with little hope for the future. Neurologists were not sure how his frontal lobe and motor cortex damage would manifest as he developed. It didn’t take more than a few months to notice the deficits. He couldn’t do simple tasks on his own, like sit up, crawl or feed himself. He didn’t show signs that he would walk. He needed special attention, including physical and speech therapy. He needed to see specialists that insurance wouldn’t cover. These were expenses that my aunt and her husband could not afford. They decided to sue the hospital and the doctor. I was only in grade school, so I had little knowledge of what this meant. All I knew was my cousin was brain damaged and it was a doctor’s fault.
When I met the lawyer representing my cousin and aunt, I sat in a large leather chair at the opposite end of the adults at a board-room style table with a coloring book. My parents thought that would distract me from why we were there. They thought I wasn’t listening, but I was. I listened to the jargon about how the deposition would go for my mom, the compensatory damages my aunt sought for the pain and suffering she endured, and the amount for which they would settle that would allow John the medical attention he needed. I pretended to color while I learned the on-call doctor was out to dinner with his family when he got the call that John was in distress. He claimed he was stuck in traffic, which would excuse his lateness. However, traffic cameras revealed that he was lying. He also lied when he said he was not aware that the surgical resident was not qualified to deliver a baby. The lawyer was confident that he could prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the doctor was negligent and because of that, John was gravely injured. Before I left the office, the lawyer said words that I will not forget: “No amount of money will ever be enough for what happened, but it can lessen the burden.”
The lawyer did lessen the financial strain on my aunt and uncle with the compensation he received on behalf of my aunt and cousin. The compensation produced over 17 million dollars over John’s lifetime. I admired what the lawyer did for our family. He used his knowledge of the law to reach a settlement that allowed his clients to get what they needed, without fear of therapy and medical costs. Watching him be the voice for my cousin and aunt, inspired me to go to law school. I will advocate for those who are at the mercy of someone who holds a position of trust, just as that lawyer did for my family members.
One October morning in my freshman year, I woke up with blood in my mouth and purple spots starting at my neck, spreading down my shoulders. I had already seen a doctor at my university’s health center four times in the past week with complaints about the antibiotic he had prescribed me for a minor staph infection. However, each time I saw the physician he neither ran blood tests nor stopped the antibiotic that was causing these problems. By the time I made it to the health center that afternoon, the petechiae – reddish or purplish spots containing blood that appear in skin as a result of localized hemorrhages – had spread over my face and entire body and the sores in my mouth had worsened. Instead of being alarmed at my appearance, the doctor once again sent me home with the instructions to rest and take a Zyrtec. Despite the lack of concern expressed by the health center, my mother was convinced something more serious was going on and drove 2 hours to come to my dorm and take me to the nearest emergency room. I remember complaining on the car ride to the hospital that I would get behind in school and that this was a waste of time because the doctor at the health center said I was fine.
After a few rudimentary blood tests, the hospital discovered that my platelet count was 2,000 – dangerously below the normal range of 150,000-400,000 – and my white blood cell count was also extremely low. After many days of the doctors playing “House” trying to figure out what was causing my body to attack itself, they eventually diagnosed me with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disorder that causes excessive bleeding. It was a rare allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was on and if my mother had not taken me to the emergency room that night, I would have died. As I improved over the next two weeks, my family, friends, and professors still expected that I would take the rest of the semester off. Despite my near-death experience due to the my university’s medical neglect, I decided I would finish the semester. I had to have my health monitored and work hard to catch up in my classes, but I pushed through and made Dean’s List.
This experience is a prime example of my determination and ambition in my academic and personal life. My university acknowledged the medical malpractice on their part and fired the physician who was in charge of my case, but did not offer any type of monetary reparation. My parents did not want to sue my school and I was left powerless to deal with the aftermath of this situation which only fueled my desire to practice law one day. Even after my financial situation threatened to force me out of the University of Delaware, I persevered and forged my own path. I devised a plan to save money by taking some credits at an in-state school which would also put me on track to graduate a year early. I figured out what I needed to do in order to succeed and I did everything in my power to make those dreams my reality.
As I’m sure you’ve read from many qualified applicants, becoming an attorney has been my dream for as long as I can remember. However, the obstacles I have overcome and the strides I’ve taken to make this happen for me are far from ordinary and speak to the dedication, passion, and diligence I would have in law school.
Legally, I’m brunette. That’s what it says on my driver’s license, that’s been my hair color in every school picture, and that’s the color my mother wishes it would remain. The fact is, though, my hair has seen almost every color under the sun – red, black, maroon, and even blue streaks on a dare. And while I’ve come back to my senses and reclaimed my natural color, I can say with confidence that I have never, ever been legally blonde.
When I was thirteen, I stood up at the dinner table and proclaimed that I wanted to be a lawyer. My family applauded my decision, and since then, I’ve listened to the same Elle Woods comparisons that countless other girls have been subjected to since the film Legally Blonde first hit cinemas. I initially resented these intimations – I had no desire to be compared to the movie’s heroine, and I had difficulty seeing past her character’s many flaws. However, once I entered college and began to look away from the film’s superficial aspects, I took a liking to Ms. Woods. She sought out opportunities that were seemingly out of her grasp; she was intelligent and determined while maintaining her poise under pressure. I began to realize that when my life was compared to Legally Blonde , it was more than just a contrast of pre-law sorority girls: it was a positive reflection of my personality and drive.
I’ve always viewed myself as a headstrong, confident woman, and I haven’t let a lack of support or inexperience hinder my ambition. In spite of challenges that have stood in my path, I’ve never taken the easy way out, and I apply my perseverance to all aspects of my life. While three generations of my family urged me to follow tradition and attend Lafayette, I chose to attend the Honors program at the University of Delaware. My academic achievements, including the Honors and Woman of Promise awards, have proven that UD was the right decision. After arriving at UD, I was the only one of my friends who wanted to join a sorority – and, without an ounce of apprehension, I walked into the recruitment process alone and smiling. Three years later, I’ve planned complex events and welcomed dozens of girls into our “family.” Finally, I worked through scheduling obstacles and complex course requirements to study abroad in London during my junior year. This proved to be the opening chapter of a new volume in my life.
The experiences from my London semester have inspired me and altered the way I view everyday life, and I now see the world with a broader perspective. Whether it was an inside tour of the Bank of England or a lecture comparing political structures of European nations, immersing myself in international cultures has only reinforced the need for greater awareness of events and cooperation on a global and national scale. Furthermore, spending time away from the US has enabled me to take a more diplomatic view of current affairs and has heightened my desire for political involvement. Since my return to UD, I’ve joined public policy groups such as the Roosevelt Institute – and am thoroughly enjoying the challenges and triumphs of political discourse.
My past has proven that I’ve made a conscientious choice to remain honest and original, and while this choice is not always easy, it is this resilience and confidence that drives me to pursue my goals. Maintaining this passion and inspiration, and sharing it with others, is one of the greatest facilitators of change, and precisely why I want to study law. My experiences have shown me that enthusiasm is contagious, and I’m sincerely excited to bring my fervor for learning to <LAW SCHOOL>.
The precocious girl who declared her legal ambitions over a plate of lasagna still remains to this day, and with that forward-thinking attitude, she’s cultivated a dream and is willing to work beyond her barriers to achieve it. Although my history and choices are a far cry from those of our aforementioned golden-haired protagonist, they have one thing in common: an unabashed desire to stick to one’s integrity, individuality, and aspirations.
Atlantic City, New Jersey: the large metal doors slowly closed in front of me. I shut my eyes, clenched my fists and began to breathe heavily. My mom always told me to count down from five, so I started. 5… 4… 3… 2… Ding. We were there, the eighth floor of the Hilton Hotel. I had just survived another bout with the elevator.
Fairfield, Connecticut: huge raindrops fell from the dark sky. I pressed my nose against the window of my dad’s Chevy, feeling my chest tighten as I stared at the accumulating rainfall. The loud smacking sound of the rain against the side of the car made my heart pound as I prayed our car would not float away. Knowing that I was stuck there in traffic, I blasted my CD Walkman as loud as I could, to try to drown out the storm.
Liberty, New York: it was our first Fourth of July at our new vacation home. I heard a whistling sound as the first firework took off. I looked up at the sky with a smile, only to then hear a loud crack. Wincing, I looked back up at the sky. This time six or seven fireworks were shot off in quick succession, erupting in a huge boom. My mom saw me tightly pressing my hands against my ears and as I returned her gaze. I could see the look of disappointment in her eyes. I think she was really hoping that I could actually enjoy this.
Elevators, rain, fireworks, just some of the many childhood fears I lived with. I was afraid of nearly everything. Everyone told me my fears were just a phase that I would grow out of, but, by the time I was a teenager, they had become almost crippling. I became adept at keeping my fears hidden. That was, until high school, when I heard my class was going on an overnight trip to Howe Caverns. They were excited and so was I, until I found out that I would have to take a small, creaky elevator 156 feet below ground. I could barely handle the million dollar elevators in Atlantic City, let alone a rickety, old one in Howe Caverns. Without any explanation, I simply told my friends that I could not go. I sat home alone, thinking about how my fears were affecting my life, controlling everything I did. I realized that I had a decision to make. I could either continue to be a victim of my fears, or find the power within myself to conquer them.
I am now in college and am proud to say that I no longer have an issue with fears. Now a senior, for the past year and a half I have been serving as the Vice President of the Planning to Achieve Collegiate Excellence program for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. The P.A.C.E. program mentors and guides underprivileged children who are struggling in High School, with the hope that they will continue on to college. More importantly, for the past year and a half I have been a mentor to Mikey. When we met, Mikey held a 1.8 GPA. He told me that he loved lacrosse and wanted to play for the University of Delaware someday. We talked about the importance of school and how he would need to improve his grades. Mikey then confided in me that he knew he was not stupid, but was just afraid of trying his best, yet still failing. When Mikey revealed this to me, it really hit close to home and compelled me to tell him about how I faced my own fears. I explained to Mikey that realizing your fears are holding you back is the starting point to overcoming them. Because I understood the position he was in, I told Mikey that he had to work through his fears and make progress within himself. I was able to connect with Mikey enough to motivate him to face his fears and get his grades up.
I continue to work with Mikey and am pleased that his GPA has improved to a 2.6. As for me, I am just proud that Mikey has benefited from my advice. While I do not know exactly what I will be doing after law school, I do know that I will meet any challenges that I face, head on and without fear. And who knows, maybe someday, Mikey himself will apply to law school as well.
I stood in the dark at the very back corner of the stage. I could see the outline of Rosa’s pink and purple hair that framed her face as she stood over the microphone, and Evan’s long, lanky figure slouched over his electric guitar. His hair, longer than mine, hung down like a sheet. They looked like rockers, poised to perform. My plain haircut, jeans lacking rips, and stiff stance gave me the appearance of an audience member who had accidentally wandered onto the stage. I placed my shaking hands on the keys. The lights snapped on. I was blinded, but it was time. I fumbled around on my keyboard and tried to move with the music. The moment I had so dreaded came closer with each note. I felt as if I was climbing to the top of a roller coaster. Suddenly, every instrument on the stage faded into the background, and the beginning of a terrifying descent commenced. I felt out a rhythm and started to tentatively run my fingers up and down the keyboard. Gaining confidence, I jumped in with a few experimental riffs on the high notes and played my way down to the soulful, lower keys, becoming increasingly oblivious to the audience. I was a classically trained pianist who had been thrust unnaturally into the world of improvisation, and I knew at that moment that I would never be able to separate my two musical worlds.
My turn to continue the family tradition of music arrived when I was seven years old. At my first classical piano lesson, my teacher placed her pet hamster under my hands to force me to arch them correctly and yelled at me through seemingly endless sloppy scales. She sent me home with a Hanon book of finger exercises and told me to practice. Over the next ten years, I labored over the Baby Grand my father had rescued from a cobwebbed corner of the basement at his office. I fell in love with the striking, robust sounds of Chopin and the beautiful intertwining melodies of Bach. I competed and won in endless competitions. I lived for the instrument and I loved to compete, but at some point, my passion turned stale. I feared that if I kept pushing myself further into the world of dry judges and uptight scoring rubrics, I would lose my joy of playing the piano. My furious piano teacher and perplexed parents wondered if I was experiencing an early quarter-life crisis as I quit my lessons to enroll in a small, dingy building tucked in an alleyway an hour away called, “School of Rock.” They advertised the opportunity to join a band of equally skilled musicians for six hours a week, plus two hours a week of private improvisation lessons.
I glided into a practice room on my first day, prepared to transition effortlessly into a new style of playing and show everyone how naturally music came to me. My beret-sporting instructor enthusiastically assigned me a minute-long keyboard improv solo in the song “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock, the great Miles Davis pianist, for the upcoming funk show that my band was to perform at the World Café Live. I snapped into my classical competition mindset, and began to spend every moment of my spare time familiarizing myself with the challenging theory and rules behind improvisation. I excelled with the technical work and the specified rules that shared a surprising resemblance to my classical training, but in all of my determination to be the best, everything I tried to play came out forced, stiff, and always lacking in some element. Discouraged, I sat on the dusty floor one evening watching Rosa, our lead vocalist, spin around on stage and burst into laughter at the end of “Mothership Connection” by Parliament. Sitting there, I suddenly understood why my quality of playing had suffered so deeply. I left classical piano because I had let the pressure to succeed overcrowd my passion for the instrument, and I was experiencing the same issues here. I started listening to funk album after album for inspiration while I danced around my kitchen channeling the music. Two weeks before the performance, I made a beeline for my keyboard, turned on “Chameleon,” and started to jam, achieving an understanding of the music that had left me for quite some time and adding my own sound within the structure of the song. When it came time to play the show, I fell into a trance of euphoria and heightened focus, moving with the music I created.
My music has shaped me. From my classical training, I carry an unshakable discipline and the ability to analyze a single piece for weeks to uncover every detail and achieve perfection. My transition into improvisation made me flexible and open to new ideas. With this in mind, I hope to approach my legal education with the same experimental attitude that led me to a certain small dingy building, and the single minute on stage that altered me so profoundly.
The official sounded her whistle, the roaring crowd turned silent, and it was time to compete. I toed the starting line alongside my competitors and told myself, “you can do this.”
The September of my senior year of high school, I wrote down my goal for the upcoming track and field season. I wanted to be a sectional champion in the 400-meter dash. This goal was somewhat unrealistic for me. Sectionals was a competitive meet that took place in May, and although I had ample time to train, I needed to shave roughly a second off of my current time just to enter the race (let alone win it). In track and field, one second is an eternity.
While I wasn’t the most athletically gifted, I would work the hardest. My coach understood my work ethic better than anyone. Over the past three years, she witnessed my drive take me from a mediocre runner who didn’t make varsity freshman year to one of the biggest contributors on the team. She believed that with my dedication to training, winning sectionals was within reach.
I went to practice every day, hit the weight room three times a week, and did extra sets of crunches. I ran on the weekends when my coach wasn’t there to hold me accountable. I was on the track working out when it was a blistering 95 degrees and humid and when it was a frigid 10 degrees and windy. I consistently kept a training log to track my progress. September to May is a long time, and it was challenging to stay driven when I knew I wouldn’t see results for months, if at all.
My efforts finally paid off in March, two months before sectionals. My 400 time dropped over half a second. And then by May, eight months after writing down my goal, I was running fast enough to qualify for the race. Another step closer.
The 400-meter race at sectionals was a competitive field. Based on my best time, I was predicted to come in fourth. As I began a warmup jog on the day of the race, the nerves hit. Three of my competitors had run faster than me. These girls were experienced and decorated athletes who were expected to be in the race. Meanwhile, I was new to competing at this level and a couple of months ago I wasn’t even running fast enough to qualify. It suddenly became easy to doubt myself. But then my coach approached me to give a quick pep talk. She reminded me of the sacrifices I made and the countless hours of work I put in to get myself to this meet. “There is no reason you can’t win this”, she insisted. For the remaining twenty minutes before the race, I told myself over and over “you are ready and you can do this” until I believed it.
I got down into the starting position as the official said, “runners take your mark… get set…” and then the gun went off, signaling “go.” I flew the first 100 meters, determined to get myself into a good position from the start. By 200 meters, the halfway point, I was in third and feeling strong. But at 300 meters is where the race gets grueling. My quads and hamstrings were on fire and I could feel my entire body tensing. All I could think about was how badly I wanted this win. I sprinted as hard as I could the last 100 meters, refusing to give into my burning muscles, and threw my body across the finish line first.
Even though I’ve left competitive running behind, the discipline, work ethic and self-trust that I’ve learned from the sport has stayed with me. When faced with a challenge or a seemingly out-of-reach goal, I take action to improve rather than accepting where I am. When I took chemistry my freshman year of college, a subject I struggle with, my advisor recommended I drop the course because it was “too difficult for me.” Instead, I set aside time each day to review the material and took advantage of office hours. Getting a B in that course was my small victory. When I first joined Triathlon club, I barely knew how to swim and was incredibly uncomfortable in the water. I went to open swim hours for extra practice and can now confidently swim laps in the pool. I know that law school will present me with new challenges and goals, but I am prepared to take them on with the same determined mindset.
It was not merely my grandfather’s death that left the deepest impact on me, but the medical malpractice that caused it. When stomach complications developed after a minor heart procedure, the physicians maintained that all was fine. Meanwhile, an easily detected infection known as C. Diff developed and destroyed my grandfather’s body. When he suddenly died two weeks later, my family turned to the law. Although my grandfather’s loss will never be fully recovered, the ensuing legal process helped my family regain normalcy. Seeing the law at work has shaped me greatly and ultimately prompted me to pursue a career in law.
With my grandfather in mind, I explored law courses as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. At first, absorbing the assigned cases did not come easily. I would read, then reflect, and sometimes read again. Determined, I practiced until I could decode key points in the language and separate dicta from decision. While reading the famous case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company and discussing concepts like proximate cause and the “But for” or “sine qua non” test, which states that if not for the defendant’s negligent act, the injury would not have occurred, I recall making some revealing connections. As I connected these concepts from class with how truly foreseeable my grandfather’s symptoms were, the more I questioned his death. It was then that I knew I wanted to join the field.
To further explore my interest, I interned with a judge on Delaware’s New Castle County Superior Court, completing a project preparing briefs on hundreds of criminal offenders. While working on the project, I came across a copy of the North Dakota Law Review that reminded me of my grandfather. It read, “The law acts as a therapeutic agent. Procedures, rules, and the legal roles that lawyers and judges play during the process of adjudication are all social forces that create consequences.” Each brief from the project revealed people who relied on the positive, or negative, consequences of law to heal them. To this, I could personally relate. The hard work of my family’s legal team produced a “consequence” of sorts that made my family whole. Seeing the legal process both personally and also as an employee of the court has motivated me to become a prosecutor, as this role will allow me to facilitate the healing process. When using discretion to determine what to charge and to what degree, prosecutors speak for those who would have otherwise remained voiceless, just like my grandfather. Here, I can help others see, just as I have seen, how much the law can matter.
The exposure I have gained, both personally and professionally, has prepared me to invest in a legal education. But most importantly, these experiences will serve as motivators while studying law. If admitted to_________, I will commit myself to learning skills that intersect the needs of my community and use them to serve those like my grandfather who will come to need the law.
“Action!” Instantly I was swept up by the crowd on Canal street. Suffering from minor claustrophobia, I glanced nervously at my mother. Her gaze was locked forward, eyes full of ambition, fully immersed in the role. Not nearly as focused, I found my thoughts flashing between “Is Matt Damon looking at me?” to “MATT DAMON IS LOOKING AT ME.”
“Cut!” yelled the exasperated director, a crumpled script facing the wrath of his grip. Matt Damon peered across the street wearily at us, the vast sea of movie extras. The last thing I, the starstruck 15-year-old, wanted to do is disappoint Matt Damon. We filmed the scene at least five more times. We walked past a bus. A frantic Emily Blunt got on the bus. Scene.
“Starring” as an extra in the 2011 film, The Adjustment Bureau, is not necessarily something I brag about on my résumé. I am not listed as “Hormonal Teenager #56” in the credits. I did not get my big break. About a year later, I went to the movies to experience my two seconds of fame. There I was in all of my Ugg boot, fake-Burberry scarf glory. And then I was gone. An extra among extras.
Until college, I had cast myself as an anxious, apathetic extra in my own life. The extra friend/ “yes (wo)man” that was often taken advantage of. The extra clause in my parents’ divorce. The extra student in class, transfixed by a never-ending daydream as my fellow classmates raised their hands. Day after day, various authority figures told me “I had potential.” I didn’t care. I didn’t WANT to care. The apathy turned me numb. Numb to my dad’s suicide attempt. Numb to my grandfather’s death. Numb to my mom coming out to my family. I was just as passive as I had been in that herd of people on Canal Street, going through the motions.
I created The Numbness , a horror movie so disturbing it’d make Stephen King shake. I’d cast myself as the lead, but still felt like an extra. I’d lay awake for days on my lumpy mattress in a zombie-like state, eyes glued to the ceiling. That’s when it started to hurt. When the lump in my throat obstructed my ability to breathe. When my eyes welled up with tears I’d kept hidden for years. When I realized the façade of numbness I’d worn like a badge of honor is the very thing that drove those I love away from me. Then I realized… I had the power to yell “cut!” this time.
No longer a washed up child star, I now choose not to fall prey to the raging sea of apathy that can sometimes crash over the campus. I attend rallies on campus and encourage others to join me. I try to attend every guest speaker lecture I possibly can, regardless of whether or not the speakers’ beliefs coincide with mine. I no longer hide behind the shroud of my confirmation biases; I welcome information that may bring about cognitive dissonance.
Even some of the best actors and actresses in Hollywood take on bad roles. If Ben Affleck can be forgiven for Gigli , I can put The Numbness behind me. As I prepare for this exciting new chapter in my life, I will not succumb to the same apathetic whirlwind as I had in the past. So now, the stage is set. The lights are beaming.
Matt Damon may or may not have a cameo.
I was sitting in my 3 rd period French class in 2008 at Cedar Bluff High School when there was an announcement.
“Allison Rugby, please report to the first floor office.”
The summons was from the Athletic Director, John Harrison, a lumbering man with a high-pitched Southern accent. For no good reason, we were all terrified of him. He stared me up and down with deep brown eyes. He took off his glasses, and pulled out several pieces of paper from his desk drawer. He seemed to be more nervous than I was. I don’t remember the exact words, but they went something like this: “I, uh, see you have signed up to try out for the ice hockey team.” More shuffling of papers. “You are the only girl trying out for the team, so we’re going to need to get permission from the school and from your doctor.”
I was 15 years old. I was just shy of five feet tall and weighed 90 pounds. The boys trying out were, on average 60 pounds heavier and towered at least six inches over me. I looked more like a ballerina than a hockey player. John wasn’t a male chauvinist; he didn’t want me to get hurt. But this is something I wanted. I played girls ice hockey growing up, and I was good at it, and I loved to play. Now I wanted to play with the boys.
My mother was furious – the boys didn’t have to get special permission from the school to try out for a sports team – but I jumped through all John’s hoops. During tryouts, I more than held my own, but on the last day, the head coach pulled me aside.
“Allison, I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re too small to compete with these boys.”
I was glad I had my helmet on, so he wouldn’t see my tears. At first I flirted with quitting. I stopped practicing with my girl’s travel team. If I couldn’t make the Varsity team, I didn’t want to play. But once the initial hurt was gone, I got angry. I wasn’t going to let one coach ruin my hockey career. I told myself I had a year. A year to get better and stronger. For the next 12 months I was on the ice at least 5 days a week. I had my own skating coach, and I was either running or at the gym every day.
At the end of the last day of tryouts the following year, the new head coach pulled me aside as I was skating off the ice. I thought to myself, not again . He put his right hand on my shoulder and smiled, something he didn’t do often.
He said, “So how about number 26 for you?”
The first person I called was my mom. I could hardly make out the words. “I made the team,” I said. She was excited for me, but not surprised.
It never got easy. When I was featured on the local news website, one reader posted a comment: “Girls like Allison ruin the sport of ice hockey.” I was a team member but I was never really on the team. When we traveled the boys shared rooms, I stayed by myself. I had to get dressed alone in a women’s lavatory stall while the boys shared a locker room. I was never made to feel part of the team. I was passionate about the sport, but could never figure out how to bridge that gap of belonging.
Playing with the boys had its rewards, however. After my high school career ended, I was given the opportunity to play on the women’s team at the University of South Dakota, where I became one of the team captains and led my team to the national tournament four years in a row. There was never any question about my belonging. In my first game as a freshman, I scored the game-winning goal. The senior captain handed me the puck and said, “Welcome to the squad, Allison.”
I was surrounded by the mixture of the Harry Potter theme song playing on my basement’s television and the winds that were blowing away people’s homes. Our plan was distraction through family movies until the crunching sound of our caving roof rudely shifted our attention. In one instant, Hurricane Sandy took control. I followed the faint screams of my parents through the smoke. Outside, my mother had called 911. “Ma’am, there are other homes far worse than yours right now. I am sorry, we are saving our evacuation vehicles for higher affected areas.” Behind her, I wondered how there were places possibly worse than the sight of the walls of our house collapsing.
The usually pristine streets of Westchester, New York, were barren except for tree trunks lying under fallen traffic lights. We pulled into the local Westchester Hyatt, which suddenly seemed less extravagant. We had no bags to empty, so were lead to our room with a pitiful look from the concierge. Room 201 had two beds, one bathroom, and a mini fridge. It smelled of those who stayed before us mixed with hotel laundry detergent.
Two years later, I was returning home for Thanksgiving break. The autumn leaves had changed color and the smell of winter was slowly approaching. The Westchester streets had returned to their polished state, cars were honking, and families were arriving. If I closed my eyes for one moment, it almost felt normal. I opened the glass doors to the hotel, went up the elevator, into Room 201. I was home. The small room held my mother, aged with anxiety, sheltering tears from my angry father. Their sadness and frustration with the seemingly permanent situation drowned their true personalities. My brother had become silent with his dreams once he realized that without a foundation at home, he didn’t want to go away to begin his collegiate journey. My family became as unrecognizable as the room that housed them.
I made it my mission to find those homes in higher affected areas that the 911 man spoke of. I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity at a site in Brigantine, New Jersey. The woman there, with eyes as tired as my mothers, smiled with joy as we removed the foundation of where her home used to exist. “Before Sandy, I had it made. And now I just want to be home.” She had so much hope in her eyes, yet with so little to hope for. She approached me in a whisper, acknowledging that she could tell I’d seen a scene like this before. I had never been so thankful for my hotel room as I did in that moment.
Losing control causes stress on relationships, society, and life. I personally saw my family deteriorate as they waited three years to be fully compensated for their losses by our insurance company. With strong backbones, I watched women who lost their homes and were losing control of their families power through without any promise of normalcy in the near future. I want to practice law to instill control in the lives of those who feel out of order.
Moving from New York City to a small Southern town of 7,000, I realized I was different. Although New York was incredibly diverse, I did not understand the true meaning of diversity until I experienced the lack of it in Swainsboro, Georgia. I remember Mrs. Zan, my third grade teacher, defining it: “Different, but good.” She then singled me out: “See, Amal’s diverse because she prays to a different God than the rest of us.” Religion was so deeply ingrained into the culture there that my God became more important than any other identifier. At eight years old teachers were asking why I didn’t go to church and my peers were convinced I was going to Hell. It was as if I was speaking my native Urdu when I explained countless times that I pray to the same God and Muslims believe in Jesus as well. I struggled to defend my culture and religion while simultaneously learning it for the first time.
At home, I fell in love with the beautiful stories of how the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would treat everyone with dignity and respect, even those who doubted him and scorned his faith. The struggles of acceptance in my young life mirrored his journey as we were both living in a society where our faiths were rejected. I could only try to follow his example: stay true to what I believe in and everything would fall into place. Unfortunately, at the time I did not have the emotional strength to combat what felt like the whole town shunning me. It seemed as if “outsider” was written on my forehead next to the chicken-pox scar resembling the traditional Indian bindi . My childhood quickly became consumed with anger and confusion. I was angry that my father brought me to a place where no one could understand me, and I couldn’t fathom why my parents would work so hard to come to America and then move to this low-income rural town.
It has taken me ten years to understand why I spent my childhood in Swainsboro, and I realize that what most shaped me was not what happened in that little town, but why. Completing his medical residency in New York gave my father many opportunities, yet he chose to work at a federal health center to provide care for low-income populations. He saw a path that would make a real difference and nothing else mattered, not the size of his paycheck or where he would raise his family. His care extended beyond physical healing; I would go to his clinic after school and watch him not only work to mend his patient’s physical pains but also do his best to relieve some of their circumstances. With his help, my sister and I created a free pantry in the waiting room and over the weekends he would send us to help his older patients clean their clients’ homes. Growing up, these were not acts of service, rather, our father ingrained this into our way of life.
Although I was challenged growing up, I will forever be indebted to my father for showing me how beautiful it is to choose a life where I put others before myself. My experiences in Georgia have never left me; they’ve given me a perspective of my place in the world by giving me the opportunity to make a real difference in my community. As I’ve grown, I’ve dedicated my undergraduate years to learning about the barriers to social justice and legal care that are just as strong as the medical barriers I witnessed so many years ago. I’ve realized just how comprehensive these issues are; they cannot only be fixed by a good bill of health. Through a legal education, I hope to obtain a holistic understanding of deep real-world issues that will equip me with the tools and experiences necessary to break down these barriers and be a part of the solution.
In Swainsboro my father not only saved lives but he taught me the importance of using my education and career for a purpose greater than myself. I can only dream to make a fraction of the impact he has made as I pursue a career that will enable me to provide protections to the same low-income communities and marginalized populations I was raised with.
Once my father made us a dinner so unappetizing that my mother asked, “Is this Pol Pot, again?” It seems morbid to joke about the genocidal regime leader whose social engineering efforts resulted in the deaths of two million Cambodians, but it was my mother’s way of minimizing the trauma she carries. The grief that she and the other women in my life shoulder manifests itself in various ways: my mother copes with her insomnia by scrubbing every inch of our home, usually multiple times over; my grandmother mistrusts everyone outside of our family; and my aunts hoard as if shortages are perpetually looming. Most recently, they all stocked for the coronavirus pandemic with eerie calmness.
Witnessing the effects of my family’s undiscussed and undiagnosed mental health disorders, I continually attempt to make sense of my feelings of empathy and guilt. Family vacations, during which my parents shared most of their painful memories, were filled with equal parts excitement and mourning. It was difficult to enjoy Disney World knowing that my mother was not much older than I was when she was starved, overworked, and lost her father and two siblings. When I eventually learned about survivor’s guilt, I wondered if it could span generations. Just as my parents’ strength could be inherited, so too could their trauma and suffering. There are two sides to survivorship, but one of them is only shown in private.
Also passed down is the burden of injustice. To date, only three Khmer Rouge officials have been convicted in trials marked by corruption and delay, and countless lower-ranking ex-cadres will never face repercussions. Legacy projects – archives centers and memorials – have not been realized, and victims have not seen appropriate redress. As my grandmother’s bouts of amnesia become more frequent, I feel agitated for her and other aging Khmer Rouge victims, most of whom are not functionally literate and unable to record their stories. Without their accounts, education and memorialization are impossible, and intergenerational dialogue between survivors and second generation individuals like myself will continue to be stifled.
As a daughter of genocide survivors, I am sensitive to those who struggle to adjust mentally and culturally. My determination to serve people with experiences similar to my family’s, and to help the world understand what they endured, has shaped my education and career goals. With a law degree, I will be better equipped to create a platform of diverse perspectives, aimed at providing minority groups with social services and spaces where they can heal, gain confidence to tell their stories, and move forward.
In the beautiful Dominican Republic, smelling the sweet maduros cooking on the stove or watching people dance bachata in the street, I felt 100% Latina. Having traits such as darker skin and curly hair never dawned on me as something different, because I was surrounded by people who looked like me. Over 70% of the Dominican population identifies as Afro-Latin, and with a Dominican mom and an African-American father, I proudly consider myself Afro-Dominican, a term which acknowledges both my European and African ancestry.
However, when I would return to my hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina after visiting the Dominican Republic, I am greeted with the same statement: “You don’t look Latina”. After hearing this several times, I began to feel alienated from my Latin culture. I grew up watching my telenovelas, which are popular soap operas primarily filmed in Latin America, often depicting main characters with fair skin and long wavy hair. I started questioning whether I could claim my culture because I didn’t look like the gorgeous Latinas in these shows. At one point, I refused to speak Spanish in public, and I straightened my natural hair so my appearance would align more with what the majority Latino community looked like.
After living in Northern Virginia’s diverse and inclusive environment during college, I now know I don’t have to identify with only one culture or one race. I am not Latina or African-American — I am both, and I am honored to claim two cultures as my own. Through my experiences as an Afro-Dominican woman, I realized that it’s okay not to fit a particular category. My culture isn’t shown in my appearance—it’s illustrated in the merengue music I listen to, the Latin dishes I eat such as La Bandera , and through the Spanish language. I hope I can help other minorities to not only embrace but to love their cultures, as I have mine.
A loud grunt fills the barbell section of the gym as I lock out 285 pounds on the deadlift platform. The room overflows with roars as my powerlifting friends shout, “COME ON, UP UP UP!” At this moment the gym becomes my second home and I am completely immersed. As I drop the bar on the platform it explodes like two magnetic forces that cannot be separated. I love the way the hand chalk dissipates in the air like magic, and the facial expressions are always at an overload from the strain of lifting several hundred pounds. Powerlifting is frustrating, terrifying, focus driven, and passion centered. For me it has created a platform where I am empowered to be a strong woman. But this journey has been anything but easy.
The first hurdle was my parents’ disapproval. My mother and father come from a traditional Salvadorian background where women do not lift weights. In their world, women do not even go to the gym regularly. Coming home from my first lifting session with my brother, I told my mom, “I did something at the gym today but don’t get mad.” She replied, “What happened? Are you okay?” I explained that I had decided to lift heavy weights with Jr., my brother. At first, she was puzzled, and she was concerned about my ankle surgery that I had the year before. One that had required multiple surgeries and steel plates. She was also concerned that I would not become a traditional Salvadorian woman. She recruited my sister, who said, “Won’t you look like a man if you lift weights?” Cue the concern for my slim physique turning into a massive hulk. It was very important to them that I looked traditionally feminine. Otherwise I would not get married, have babies, and create a household in the future.
A month later I made a video of my deadlift personal record of 225 pounds. My parents could see that my technique was proper and safe, and that my physique did not balloon into something that would infringe our Salvadorian customs.
My family’s concerns are allayed, but powerlifting continues to be the gift that keeps on giving and there are more hurdles, awaiting me like landmines. Men at the gym feel compelled to say, “Why is your stance so wide? You are going to injury yourself!” They cannot imagine that a woman could know anything about the powerlifting sport. They are speaking out of some misguided notions of what a woman can do, and I have learned to educate them. My intersectionality in being a woman, an abled-bodied powerlifter, and a Salvadorian have allowed me to continue to defy societal standards.
Storytelling is my ideal form of expression. My favorite medium is a bright red bus. At Revolution, I design and execute Rise of the Rest bus tours across the country, visiting five cities in five days, with the mandate to invest capital in and shine a spotlight on underrepresented people and places. In Memphis, I worked with a first-time founder using blockchain technology to properly credit minority sound engineers on hit records. In San Juan, I advised an urban farmer who was scaling her micro-cultivation techniques to reverse the rising trend of imported food to Puerto Rico. My position allows me to build platforms underneath of a diverse array of entrepreneurs in unexpected places. However, these entrepreneurs are not on a level playing field because venture investment disproportionately flows to founders who are white, male, and living on the coasts.
I also happen to possess all three of those privileged identities. And while privilege is not bad in and of itself, I do believe that I have a responsibility to change the standards by which society unfairly values aspects of my identity over others. That is a commitment I make to my future classmates at LAW SCHOOL NAME and to the broader CITY community. It is also a standard to which I have held myself to on my path to law school.
My personal viewpoint is straightforward – I see opportunity through the lens of geography, a perspective that has been influenced by Professor Raj Chetty’s research on intergenerational economic mobility. As a Plastino Scholar, I conducted policy research for under-resourced public-school leaders in rural communities in West Virginia and Illinois on how to leverage federal funding to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students regardless of parental income, replacing the harmful full- or reduced-price bifurcation. My graduate school dissertation showed how the circumnavigation of school district boundaries by upper-middle class parents is a factor in the rapid gentrification of one of DC’s poorest neighborhoods. And as a consultant, I bypassed opportunities to work with traditional clients to instead join a social enterprise in crafting culturally-relevant programs to increase safe sanitation practices in dense urban areas of Pune, India. In each of these place-based experiences, I have tried to acknowledge the privilege with which I come to the table and recognize how complicated geographic dynamics change the calculus when building equitable solutions.
I believe LAW SCHOOL has differentiated itself in making diversity a shared cultural value through what is said, written, and rewarded. The rich experiences of the students and faculty provide the ideal environment for collisions that result in new ways of solving complex problems. I hope to engage in that process because the value I have gained from a more contextualized understanding of the role of place in determining outcomes is ultimately a waste if just for me.
My elementary school classmates often asked me, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” I would respond with a shoulder shrug because I didn’t speak English well enough at the age of nine to explain. In middle and high school, however, I could explain, “I was diagnosed with Myasthenia gravis, or lazy eye, a neuromuscular disease that causes weakness to my eye muscles.” Myasthenia gravis is an incurable disease. The most obvious sign of this illness is having lazy eyes: my eyes wandered all over the place in their sockets.
I was 12 years old when my Argentinean eye doctor explained that he could correct my affliction with cosmetic surgery. He told my parents, “Yo lo puede arreglar con sirugia” (I can help her.) I jumped out of the chair in excitement and said “When can you do it.” After being mocked for so long, at last I had hope. What followed shattered me. My mother’s said, “No ella esta bien como dios la mando all mundo, vinimos aqui para ver lentes de vista.”(No, she’s fine how God sent her. We just came here for glasses.) I looked at the floor in silence the rest of the appointment. I was furious with my mother for denying me a chance to be normal, even though I knew that devout Catholics like her believe that fixing your appearance with surgery is a sign of having weak faith in God.
My mother brought her Catholicism from El Salvador when we moved to the U.S. Living under her strict regimen meant no sleepovers, no play dates, and no birthday parties. In those three years I changed. I became more hostile, sad, and lonely. My father noticed this and asked me, “Es por los ojos vea,” and I said yes, it’s because of my eyes. About four months after that conversation, and three years after my mother denied me cosmetic surgery, my dad said, “You’re coming to work with me, so be ready tomorrow morning.” When we got into the car, he said, “We are getting your eyes fixed.” I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that excited about anything. My life was finally starting!
When my mom found out what we had done, she was angry at my dad for going against our faith. She also said that if the surgery failed, I would be completely blind, and my vanity would be the cause. My dad and I ignored her. On surgery day it was only the two of us. After surgery I opened my eyes, and the doctor said, “I’m sorry, Melina, but the surgery was not successful. We have to wait for the swelling to go down and see why we couldn’t fix it.”
The pain of an eye surgery is horrific. When I would cry my eye bled, and it would hurt even more to know all that pain amounted to nothing. But I knew I had to continue fighting. After three weeks my dad asked, “Are you willing to put yourself through this again” and I said, “Absolutely, I’m not stopping.” The second surgery to fix my lazy eyes worked. And to my surprise, when I came out of surgery my mom was waiting for me. “You are the most resilient person I have ever known,” she said.
Last year I realized that I no longer had Myasthenia gravis. My doctor could not explain how this could have happened. In fact it was theoretically impossible. My mom was in the physician’s office with me at the time, and we exchanged glances. We knew exactly what had happened.
My father enlisted in the U.S. Army to escape life in Isabela, Puerto Rico. He met his future wife while stationed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. My mother would climb a mango tree outside the Army base and watch the soldiers play volleyball. My father noticed her, and after dating for 6 months they married. My mother would find the opportunity of a lifetime when she moved to the United States with my father. She hoped her family could visit her here, but under U.S. immigration law they did not have sufficient ties to Honduras to ensure that they would not overstay their visas. She is still trying to bring them here, but in the current political climate, we doubt that will ever happen.
My Honduran family lives in poverty, so we regularly send them money. Also, I send sneakers to my little cousins because my aunts and uncles cannot afford them. Occasionally, I talk to my relatives on the phone and see photos of my cousins, but my father won’t allow me to travel there because Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 have virtually free rein because the drug trade has given them so much power. As long as these gangs are in charge, I will never meet my Honduran family, and that is a tragedy for me and my family.
I visit my father’s Puerto Rican family every four years. In fact, I celebrated my 20th birthday with them. However, my Puerto Rican relatives still live at an economic level far below my own, so we regularly send them money as well. When visiting, we have to adjust to unexpected power and water outages and the absence of air-conditioning. Although Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, the damage to roads, buildings, and power lines is still widespread.
Experiencing what it’s like to live in these conditions has helped me realize how much I take my life for granted. At times I feel guilty because I know I have had opportunities that are denied to my cousins. After we settled in suburban San Antonio, Texas, where many white and Mexican families are very well off, I attended excellent schools from an early age, took dance and piano lessons, and went on family vacations to Italy, Hawaii, Jamaica, the Caymans, Disney World, and many other places. I understand that these experiences have been possible because of my parents’ sacrifices and hard work, which gave their children better lives than they experienced.
I understand that Hispanic women in the U.S. face difficulties. We are stereotyped as stay-at-home mothers, janitors, maids, or agricultural laborers, not as aspiring lawyers. Even my relatives are surprised that I plan on attending law school. Another issue for me is that discussions about the U.S.-Mexico border in my homeland security courses have been a sensitive topic. Most of my classmates support harsher immigration laws, as if they aren’t strict enough already. In one classroom discussion, only an African American girl and I opposed our predominately white classmates’ support for Trump’s border wall. These discussions are extremely uncomfortable since these laws have prevented me from meeting my Honduran family. In fact, most Hispanics are outraged by the way President Trump has demonized us, as if we are all “criminals, drug dealers, [and] rapists.” Hispanics can also relate to the pain caused by family separation. I am experiencing that right now.
Despite these concerns, I am lucky to be an Hispanic in America rather than an Hispanic in my parents’ home countries. However people label me, I am fortunate to have had my life, and I want to make my parents proud because of their unflinching support for my hopes of becoming a lawyer. I also want to challenge stereotypes about Hispanic women by earning a law degree, so I have always taken my academics seriously. In law school I hope to focus on national security law. My father was involved in security efforts with the military during the Cold War, and my brother now works for the National Security Agency. They have inspired me to pursue a similar career. I hope to begin that journey at the [X] Law School
I am a Female Muslim Lebanese Palestinian American. My mother’s family is Lebanese, and my father’s family is Palestinian. My paternal grandfather, Ahmed, grew up in Palestine. In 1948, Israel took over Palestine and forced my grandfather’s family to move to Lebanon and become refugees. Ahmed did not accept the lifestyle of a refugee, so he started working in hopes of moving his family out of the refugee camps. Ahmed began work as a delivery man for an appliance store but was not able to advance because he was not a Lebanese citizen. Eventually, Ahmed met my mother’s grandfather, who brought him into the family and gave him citizenship, so he could start working in Lebanon. My grandfather was then able to start a business buying appliances from manufacturers and selling them to customers.
As much as my grandfather suffered, he was one of the lucky ones that were able to get papers to work in Lebanon which allowed him to get his family out in time before the refugee camp massacre. The refugees who could not leave were killed in the Sabra and Chatila Massacre during September 16-18 in 1982. My father’s cousins were killed during this raid, but his aunts lived because the women and children were deeper in the camps. The militia was killing the refugees with knives and axes instead of guns to keep the slaughtering quiet. On the third day of the massacre, the militia gave up and started shooting. After the massacre, the camp was bulldozed, destroying any evidence of the killings.
My Palestinian relatives are still living in Lebanon as refugees because they were never able to get papers. The seaport explosion that occurred in Lebanon on August 4, 2020, left many of my family and relatives on my mother’s and father’s side displaced and living in the streets. I was lucky enough to get in contact with my aunt on my mother’s side to see if they were still alive because they live only a few blocks from the bomb site. I have a cousin around my age that should be getting prepared for his final year at college but is instead helping clean up the streets of Lebanon from the explosion.
After all that happened to my grandfather, he decided to move his family to Miami, Florida in the late ’70s in hopes of a better future and education that he never received. My father and his siblings all completed their bachelor’s, and my father completed a Master’s in Business. He worked as a food and beverage director for the Ritz in Miami. A few months after I was born, my father received an offer for a position in D.C. Months later September 11 happened and my dad lost his contract ending his hotel managing career. My dad, like his father, had responsibilities and mouths to feed, so he worked as a substitute teacher, a construction worker, a Sears employee, etc. to make ends meet. After six years of unsteady income and odd jobs, he was able to secure his current position in the Saudi Arabia Embassy as a consultant.
The biggest reason I can pursue law is because of my grandfather’s sacrifices. While I am grateful to an American citizen, I am proud of my diverse Arab heritage.
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 The students whose work is represented here have given me permission to use their statements anonymously. To that end, I have removed any personally identifiable information in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act . While this has required changes in names, places, and certain details, the story elements and prose belongs solely to the students.
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Excellent Law School Personal Statement Examples
We’ve rounded up five spectacular personal statements that helped students with borderline numbers get into T-14 schools. You’ll find these examples to be as various as a typical JD class. Some essays are about a challenge, some about the evolution of the author’s intellectual or professional journey, and some about the author’s identity. The only common thread is sincerity. The authors did not write toward an imagined idea of what an admissions officer might be looking for: they reckoned honestly with formative experiences.
Personal Statement about a Career Journey
The writer of this personal statement matriculated at Georgetown. Her GPA was below the school’s 25th percentile and her LSAT score was above the 75th percentile. She was not a URM.
* Note that we’ve used female pronouns throughout, though some of the authors are male.
I don’t remember anything being out of the ordinary before I fainted—just the familiar, heady feeling and then nothing. When I came to, they were wheeling me away to the ER. That was the last time I went to the hospital for my neurology observership. Not long after, I crossed “doctor” off my list of post-graduate career options. It would be best, I figured, if I did something for which the day-to-day responsibilities didn’t make me pass out.
Back at the drawing board, I reflected on my choices. The first time around, my primary concern was how I could stay in school for the longest amount of time possible. Key factors were left out of my decision: I had no interest in medicine, no aptitude for the natural sciences, and, as it quickly became apparent, no stomach for sick patients. The second time around, I was honest with myself: I had no idea what I wanted to do.
My college graduation speaker told us that the word “job” comes from the French word “gober,” meaning “to devour.” When I fell into digital advertising, I was expecting a slow and toothless nibbling, a consumption whose impact I could ignore while I figured out what I actually wanted to do. I’d barely started before I realized that my interviewers had been serious when they told me the position was sink or swim. At six months, I was one toothbrush short of living at our office. It was an unapologetic aquatic boot camp—and I liked it. I wanted to swim. The job was bringing out the best in me and pushing me to do things I didn’t think I could do.
I remember my first client emergency. I had a day to re-do a presentation that I’d been researching and putting together for weeks. I was panicked and sure that I’d be next on the chopping block. My only cogent thought was, “Oh my god. What am I going to do?” The answer was a three-part solution I know well now: a long night, lots of coffee, and laser-like focus on exactly and only what was needed.
Five years and numerous emergencies later, I’ve learned how to work: work under pressure, work when I’m tired, and work when I no longer want to. I have enough confidence to set my aims high and know I can execute on them. I’ve learned something about myself that I didn’t know when I graduated: I am capable.
The word “career” comes from the French word “carrière,” denoting a circular racecourse. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me then, that I’ve come full circle with regards to law school. For two college summers, I interned as a legal associate and wondered, “Is this for me?” I didn’t know if I was truly interested, and I was worried that even if I was, I wouldn’t be able to see it through. Today, I don’t have those fears.
In the course of my advertising career, I have worked with many lawyers to navigate the murky waters of digital media and user privacy. Whereas most of my co-workers went to great lengths to avoid our legal team, I sought them out. The legal conversations about our daily work intrigued me. How far could we go in negotiating our contracts to reflect changing definitions of an impression? What would happen if the US followed the EU and implemented wide-reaching data-protection laws?
Working on the ad tech side of the industry, I had the data to target even the most niche audiences: politically-active Mormon Democrats for a political client; young, low-income pregnant women for a state government; millennials with mental health concerns in a campaign for suicide prevention. The extent to which digital technology has evolved is astonishing. So is the fact that it has gone largely unregulated. That’s finally changing, and I believe the shift is going to open up a more prominent role for those who understand both digital technology and its laws. I hope to begin my next career at the intersection of those two worlds.
Personal Statement about Legal Internships
The writer of this essay was admitted to every T14 law school from Columbia on down and matriculated at a top JD program with a large merit scholarship. Her LSAT score was below the median and her GPA was above the median of each school that accepted her. She was not a URM.
About six weeks into my first legal internship, my office-mate gestured at the window—we were seventy stories high in the Chrysler Building—and said, with a sad smile, doesn’t this office just make you want to jump? The firm appeared to be falling apart. The managing partners were suing each other, morale was low, and my boss, in an effort to maintain his client base, had instructed me neither to give any information to nor take any orders from other attorneys. On my first day of work, coworkers warned me that the firm could be “competitive,” which seemed to me like a good thing. I considered myself a competitive person and enjoyed the feeling of victory. This, though, was the kind of competition in which everyone lost.
Although I felt discouraged about the legal field after this experience, I chose not to give up on the profession, and after reading a book that featured the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, I sent in an internship application. Shortly after, I received an offer to work at the office. For my first assignment, I attended a hearing in the federal courthouse. As I entered the magnificent twenty-third-floor courtroom, I felt the gravitas of the issue at hand: the sentencing of a terrorist.
That sense of gravitas never left me, and visiting the courtroom became my favorite part of the job. Sitting in hearings amidst the polished brass fixtures and mahogany walls, watching attorneys in refined suits prosecute terror, cybercrime, and corruption, I felt part of a grand endeavor. The spectacle enthralled me: a trial was like a combination of a theatrical performance and an athletic event. If I’d seen the dark side of competition at my first job, now I was seeing the bright side. I sat on the edge of my seat and watched to see if good—my side—triumphed over evil—the defense. Every conviction seemed like an unambiguous achievement. I told my friends that one day I wanted to help “lock up the bad guys.”
It wasn’t until I interned at the public defender’s office that I realized how much I’d oversimplified the world. In my very first week, I took the statement of a former high school classmate who had been charged with heroin possession. I did not know him well in high school, but we both recognized one another and made small talk before starting the formal interview. He had fallen into drug abuse and had been convicted of petty theft several months earlier. After finishing the interview, I wished him well.
The following week, in a courtroom that felt more like a macabre DMV than the hallowed halls I’d seen with the USAO, I watched my classmate submit his guilty plea, which would allow him to do community service in lieu of jail time. The judge accepted his plea and my classmate mumbled a quiet “thank you.” I felt none of the achievement I’d come to associate with guilty pleas. In that court, where hundreds of people trudged through endless paperwork and long lines before they could even see a judge, there were no good guys and bad guys—just people trying to put their lives back together.
A year after my internship at the public defender’s office, I read a profile of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and my former boss. In the profile, he says, “You don’t want a justice system in which prosecutors are cowboys.” The more I saw at the public defender’s office, the more I rethought my experience at the USAO. When I had excitedly called my parents after an insider trading conviction, I had not thought of the defendant’s family. When I had cheered the conviction of a terrorist, I hadn’t thought about the fact that a conviction could not undo his actions. As I now plan on entering the legal profession—either as a prosecutor or public defender—I realize that my enthusiasm momentarily overwrote my empathy. I’d been playing cowboy. A lawyer’s job isn’t to lock up bad guys or help good guys in order to quench a competitive thirst—it’s to subsume his or her ego in the work and, by presenting one side of a case, create a necessary condition for justice.
Personal Statement about Cultural Identity
The writer of this essay was offered significant merit aid packages from Cornell, Michigan, and Northwestern, and matriculated at NYU Law. Her LSAT score was below the 25th percentile LSAT score and her GPA matched the median GPA of NYU.
By the age of five, I’d attended seven kindergartens and collected more frequent flier miles than most adults. I resided in two worlds – one with fast motorcycles, heavy pollution, and the smell of street food lingering in the air; the other with trimmed grass, faint traces of perfume mingling with coffee in the mall, and my mom pressing her hand against my window as she left for work. She was the only constant between these two worlds – flying me between Taiwan and America as she struggled to obtain a U.S. citizenship.
My family reunited for good around my sixth birthday, when we flew back to Taiwan to join my dad. I forgot about the West, acquired a taste for Tangyuan, and became fast friends with the kids in my neighborhood. In the evenings, I’d sit with my grandmother as she watched soap operas in Taiwanese, the dialect of the older generation, which I picked up in unharmonious bits and pieces. Other nights, she would turn off the TV, and speak to me about tradition and history – recounting my ancestors, life during the Japanese regime, raising my dad under martial law. “You are the last of the Li’s,” she would say, patting my back, and I’d feel a quick rush of pride, as though a lineage as deep as that of the English monarchy rested on my shoulders.
When I turned seven, my parents enrolled me in an American school, explaining that it was time for me, a Tai Wan Ren (Taiwanese), to learn English – “a language that could open doors to better opportunities.” Although I learned slowly, with a handful of the most remedial in ESL (English as a Second Language), books like The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows opened up new worlds of captivating images and beautiful stories that I longed to take part in.
Along with the new language, I adopted a different way to dress, new mannerisms, and new tastes, including American pop culture. I stopped seeing the neighborhood kids, and sought a set of friends who shared my affinity for HBO movies and Claire’s Jewelry . Whenever taxi drivers or waitresses asked where I was from, noting that I spoke Chinese with too much of an accent to be native, I told them I was American.
At home, I asked my mom to stop packing Taiwanese food for my lunch. The cheap food stalls I once enjoyed now embarrassed me. Instead, I wanted instant mashed potatoes and Kraft mac and cheese.
When it came time for college, I enrolled in a liberal arts school on the East Coast to pursue my love of literature, and was surprised to find that my return to America did not feel like the full homecoming I’d expected. America was as familiar as it was foreign, and while I had mastered being “American” in Taiwan, being an American in America baffled me. The open atmosphere of my university, where ideas and feelings were exchanged freely, felt familiar and welcoming, but cultural references often escaped me. Unlike my friends who’d grown up in the States, I had never heard of Wonder Bread, or experienced the joy of Chipotle’s burrito bowls. Unlike them, I missed the sound of motorcycles whizzing by my window on quiet nights.
It was during this time of uncertainty that I found my place through literature, discovering Taiye Selasi, Edward Said, and Primo Levi, whose works about origin and personhood reshaped my conception of my own identity. Their usage of the language of otherness provided me with the vocabulary I had long sought, and revealed that I had too simplistic an understanding of who I was. In trying to discover my role in each cultural context, I’d confined myself within an easy dichotomy, where the East represented exotic foods and experiences, and the West, development and consumerism. By idealizing the latter and rejecting the former, I had reduced the richness of my worlds to caricatures. Where I am from, and who I am, is an amalgamation of my experiences and heritage: I am simultaneously a Mei Guo Ren and Taiwanese.
Just as I once reconciled my Eastern and Western identities, I now seek to reconcile my love of literature with my desire to effect tangible change. I first became interested in law on my study abroad program, when I visited the English courts as a tourist. As I watched the barristers deliver their statements, it occurred to me that law and literature have some similarities: both are a form of criticism that depends on close reading, the synthesis of disparate intellectual frameworks, and careful argumentation. Through my subsequent internships and my current job, I discovered that legal work possessed a tangibility I found lacking in literature. The lawyers I collaborate with work tirelessly to address the same problems and ideas I’ve explored only theoretically in my classes – those related to human rights, social contracts, and moral order. Though I understand that lawyers often work long hours, and that the work can be, at times, tedious, I’m drawn to the kind of research, analysis, and careful reading that the profession requires. I hope to harness my critical abilities to reach beyond the pages of the books I love and make meaningful change in the real world.
Personal Statement about Weightlifting
The writer of this essay was admitted to her top choice—a T14 school—with a handwritten note from the dean that praised her personal statement. Her LSAT score was below the school’s median and her GPA was above the school’s median.
As I knelt to tie balloons around the base of the white, wooden cross, I thought about the morning of my best friend’s accident: the initial numbness that overwhelmed my entire body; the hideous sound of my own small laugh when I called the other member of our trio and repeated the words “Mark died”; the panic attack I’d had driving home, resulting in enough tears that I had to pull off to the side of the road. Above all, I remembered the feeling of reality crashing into my previously sheltered life, the feeling that nothing was as safe or certain as I’d believed.
I had been with Mark the day before he passed, exactly one week before we were both set to move down to Tennessee to start our freshman year of college. It would have been difficult to feel so alone with my grief in any circumstance, but Mark’s crash seemed to ignite a chain reaction of loss. I had to leave Nashville abruptly in order to attend the funeral of my grandmother, who helped raise me, and at the end of the school year, a close friend who had helped me adjust to college was killed by an oncoming car on the day that he’d graduated. Just weeks before visiting Mark’s grave on his birthday, a childhood friend shot and killed himself in an abandoned parking lot on Christmas Eve. I spent Christmas Day trying to act as normally as possible, hiding the news in order not to ruin the holiday for the rest of my family.
This pattern of loss compounding loss affected me more than I ever thought it would. First, I just avoided social media out of fear that I’d see condolences for yet another friend who had passed too early. Eventually, I shut down emotionally and lost interest in the world—stopped attending social gatherings, stopped talking to anyone, and stopped going to many of my classes, as every day was a struggle to get out of bed. I hated the act that I had to put on in public, where I was always getting asked the same question —“I haven’t seen you in forever, where have you been?”—and always responding with the same lie: “I’ve just been really busy.”
I had been interested in bodybuilding since high school, but during this time, the lowest period of my life, it changed from a simple hobby to a necessity and, quite possibly, a lifesaver. The gym was the one place I could escape my own mind, where I could replace feelings of emptiness with the feeling of my heart pounding, lungs exploding, and blood flooding my muscles, where—with sweat pouring off my forehead and calloused palms clenched around cold steel—I could see clearly again.
Not only did my workouts provide me with an outlet for all of my suppressed emotion, but they also became the one aspect of my life where I felt I was still in control. I knew that if it was Monday, no matter what else was going on, I was going to be working out my legs, and I knew exactly what exercises I was going to do, and how many repetitions I was going to perform, and how much weight I was going to use for each repetition. I knew exactly when I would be eating and exactly how many grams of each food source I would ingest. I knew how many calories I would get from each of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. My routine was one thing I could count on.
As I loaded more plates onto the barbell, I grew stronger mentally as well. The gym became a place, paradoxically, of both exertion and tranquility, a sanctuary where I felt capable of thinking about the people I’d lost. It was the healing I did there that let me tie the balloons to the cross on Mark’s third birthday after the crash, and that let me spend the rest of the afternoon sharing stories about Mark with friends on the side of the rural road. It was the healing I did there that left me ready to move on.
One of the fundamental principles of weightlifting involves progressively overloading the muscles by taking them to complete failure, coming back, and performing past the point where you last failed, consistently making small increases over time. The same principle helped me overcome my grief, and in the past few years, I’ve applied it to everything from learning Spanish to studying for the LSAT. As I prepare for the next stage of my life, I know I’ll encounter more challenges for which I’m unprepared, but I feel strong enough now to acknowledge my weaknesses, and—by making incremental gains—to overcome them.
Personal Statement about Sexual Assault
The writer of this essay was accepted to many top law schools and matriculated at Columbia. Her LSAT score matched Columbia’s median while her GPA was below Columbia’s 25th percentile.
My rapist didn’t hold a knife to my throat. My rapist didn’t jump out of a dark alleyway. My rapist didn’t slip me a roofie. My rapist was my eighth-grade boyfriend, who was already practicing with the high school football team. He assaulted me in his suburban house in New Jersey, while his mom cooked us dinner in the next room, in the back of an empty movie theatre, on the couch in my basement.
It started when I was thirteen and so excited to have my first real boyfriend. He was a football player from a different school who had a pierced ear and played the guitar. I, a shy, slightly chubby girl with a bad haircut and very few friends, felt wanted, needed, and possibly loved. The abuse—the verbal and physical harassment that eventually turned sexual—was just something that happened in grown-up relationships. This is what good girlfriends do, I thought. They say yes.
Never having had a sex-ed class in my life, it took me several months after my eighth-grade graduation and my entry into high school to realize the full extent of what he did to me. My overall experience of first “love” seemed surreal. This was something that happened in a Lifetime movie, not in a small town in New Jersey in his childhood twin bed. I didn’t tell anyone about what happened. I had a different life in a different school by then, and I wasn’t going to let my trauma define my existence.
As I grew older, I was confronted by the fact that rape is not a surreal misfortune or a Lifetime movie. It’s something that too many of my close friends have experienced. It’s when my sorority sister tells me about the upstairs of a frat house when she’s too drunk to say no. It’s when the boy in the room next door tells me about his uncle during freshman orientation. It’s a high school peer whose summer internship boss became too handsy. Rape is real. It’s happening every day, to mothers, brothers, sisters, and fathers—a silent majority that want to manage the burden on their own, afraid of judgement, afraid of repercussions, afraid of a he-said she-said court battle.
I am beyond tired of the silence. It took me three years to talk about what happened to me, to come clean to my peers and become a model of what it means to speak about something that society tells you not to speak about. Motivated by my own experience and my friends’ stories, I joined three groups that help educate my college community about sexual health and assault: New Feminists, Speak for Change, and Sexual Assault Responders. I trained to staff a peer-to-peer emergency hotline for survivors of sexual assault. I protested the university’s cover-up of a gang-rape in the basement of a fraternity house two doors from where I live now. As a member of my sorority’s executive board, I have talked extensively about safety and sexual assault, and have orchestrated a speaker on the subject to come to campus and talk to the exceptional young women I consider family. I’ve proposed a DOE policy change to make sexual violence education mandatory to my city councilman. This past summer, I traveled to a country notorious for sexual violence and helped lay the groundwork for a health center that will allow women to receive maternal care, mental health counseling, and career counseling.
Law school is going to help me take my advocacy to the next level. Survivors of sexual assault, especially young survivors, often don’t know where to turn. They don’t know their Title IX rights, they don’t know about the Clery Act, and they don’t know how to demand help when every other part of the system is shouting at them to be quiet and give up. Being a lawyer, first and foremost, is being an advocate. With a JD, I can work with groups like SurvJustice and the Rape Survivors Law Project to change the lives of people who were silenced for too long.
📌 Further reading:
- Six Law School Personal Statements That Got Into Harvard
- Free admissions course
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Law School Personal Statement: The Ultimate Guide (Examples Included)
Learn how to write a law school personal statement that dazzles admissions committees.
AN EXCELLENT LAW SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENT CAN HELP COMPENSATE FOR A less competitive UNDERGRADUATE GPA OR LSAT SCORE
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: why does the law school personal statement matter, part 3: what should a law school personal statement do, part 4: law school personal statement brainstorming, part 5: how to write your law school personal statement, part 6: law school personal statement examples, part 7: frequently asked questions.
The law school admissions process can feel confusing, scary, and overwhelming. Questions like “What LSAT score do I need?” , “How many law schools should I apply to?,” and “Do law school rankings matter?” likely weigh on your mind.
But amid all the uncertainty, there’s one thing we know for sure: the two most important components of your law school application are your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score.
That means you should spend as much time as you’re able improving those two things. If you’ve already graduated from college or are about to graduate, you should focus on improving your LSAT score as much as you reasonably can. But while those two statistics are invariably the most important factors affecting the success of your law school admissions cycle, they aren’t the only factors admissions committees consider.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the third-most important part of your application: your law school personal statement.
Because your LSAT and GPA carry so much weight, you shouldn’t begin thinking about your personal statement until you have already taken the LSAT. But while you wait for your scores, you can turn your attention to the essay.
Before we get into the step-by-step guide, we’ll offer some general framing thoughts about the law school personal statement. While many people applying to law school are already strong writers with backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, public policy, or journalism, they often forget the components of good storytelling as soon as they sit down to write their essays.
Remember that the tone of your law school essays isn’t the same tone you’ll use in a legal brief. Law schools are admitting the whole person. An artificial intelligence can handle legal research; only you can display the kind of narrative understanding of your own background and your own future that a good future attorney needs.
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A quality personal statement—a short essay in which you articulate who you are and why you want to go to law school—allows an admissions officer to understand your motivation to attend law school, and the reasons why you want to attend their school, specifically.
As admissions committees decide between students who have similar stats (i.e., GPAs and LSAT scores), they might turn to a tiebreaker: the personal statement. An effective law school personal statement can mean the difference between a letter that begins with “Congratulations!” and one that starts “We regret to inform you...”
In 2018, law school enrollment soared for the first time in nearly ten years. And the number of applications has continued to rise since then, with the 2020–2021 cycle bringing a 13 percent increase in applications compared to the previous year—the largest applicant pool of the past decade.
While the competition to get into a top law school has grown stiffer, students from these programs have less collective debt than their peers at lower-tier schools. A strong personal statement is one major way to push you beyond your scores and into the top 5, 10, or 14 programs , giving you a shot not only at a top-notch education with less debt, but also a flourishing career in the years after.
The personal statement also matters because lawyers have to write, and they have to come up with creative arguments to support a variety of claims. If you can’t make a case for yourself, how can a law school trust that you’ll defend tenants’ rights or argue successfully on behalf of a major corporation?
Your personal statement can demonstrate that you’re not only a rigorous, clear thinker but also a pristine writer, so make sure you don’t leave any typos for an eagle-eyed admissions committee to nitpick over.
Lastly, a strong set of law school essays demonstrates that you aren’t just going to law school by default. Unlike, say, medical school, law school has no undergraduate prerequisites, making it a generic possibility for many students who don’t know what to do next but want a respected career. Offering specificity, passion, and context for your application assures programs that you can make the most of these three years, and that you’ll represent them well as an alumnus or alumna.
(Suggested reading: How to Write an Amazing Law School Diversity Statement )
Your law school personal statement should tell the admissions committee something about you outside of your academic qualifications or work experience.
The personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your personality, reflect on the experiences that led you to apply to law school, and demonstrate how you will make a great addition to the school’s incoming class.
Meeting our students
Throughout the course of this post, we’ll provide examples from students who have gone through this process so you can see the writing process in action. These examples are either real essays that have been slightly adjusted for anonymity or are composites based on real students who have had success applying to T-14 (top-tier) schools.
Tucker: Tucker is from North Carolina and studied at UNC. He has bits and pieces of political experience, most notably working on a state representative’s successful campaign. He wants to return to North Carolina after law school to work as a public defender or return to politics.
Teresa: Teresa is a first-generation Nigerian immigrant who went to a large technically-focused state school, studied mechanical engineering, and ultimately decided a strictly technical career is not her forte.
Deepika: Deepika graduated with a 4.0 from a state school close to home. She studied premed, but toward the end of her undergraduate career decided med school wasn’t for her. In the last year, she’s worked for a local law firm as a paralegal and wants to become an attorney, preferably ending up at a big firm in New York City.
Pavel: Pavel did well as an undergraduate at Michigan, winning the collegiate national debate title along the way. He doesn’t know what kind of law he wants to practice, but right now he’s most interested in the work of prestigious non-profits like the ACLU.
Eric: Eric attended Morehouse, a historically Black college, and spent his undergraduate years studying American history while also getting involved in local Atlanta politics. He’s originally from rural Alabama, and moved to Baltimore after Morehouse to teach high schoolers for two years.
Victor: Victor, a Dallas native, took advantage of his liberal arts education at Harvard. He pursued an interdisciplinary major, Social Studies, and earned good but not fantastic grades in the competitive concentration. He did everything possible on campus: performed with an improv troupe, did work-study in the admissions office, attended weekly religious group meetings. When he graduated, it wasn’t obvious what he would do. He entertained offers from banks and consultancies alike, and he took his time before applying to law school, working in local government and attending a graduate program in France first.
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Before you begin writing, you should spend time brainstorming ideas. Because law school personal statement prompts are almost always broad—e.g. “Why do you want to go to law school?”—applicants often feel uncertain about how to proceed. Either you have too many ideas, or no clue what to write. First, let’s look at a strategy you can use if you don’t know where to start.
Grab a notepad, and answer the following questions:
What’s a time—a year, a summer, a month, even a day—that helped define who you are today?
What are your fondest memories from college?
When did you first think about becoming a lawyer?
What’s the hardest thing you’ve experienced?
What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
What cause do you care about most? When did you first begin to care about it?
What qualities do you associate with the law? When did you first begin to think about the law in those terms?
Who’s had a significant impact on you? What’s an important experience you had with that person?
What’s a Big Idea that changed the way you think? How did you encounter it (i.e. in school, with a friend, through religion, etc)?
What is definitely not on your resumé but is still an important part of who you are?
Feel free to ask yourself additional questions. The more ideas, the better.
Another way into your PS is to ask what qualities make a good lawyer, and how you embody those qualities. Here are a few to get you started, though this is by no means a comprehensive list.
A commitment to justice or the rule of law
A passion for a particular policy matter or issue (e.g. climate change, religious freedom)
A strong ability to communicate, verbally or in writing
Critical thinking skills and a facility for argumentation
A creative approach to problem-solving
Before moving from the idea-generation phase to the writing phase, take some time, whether it’s a few hours or a day or a week to step away from the process. This next step is best done when removed from the context of your brainstorming.
Focusing your ideas
Here are some of the topics that our students came up with:
Working on a local election campaign
Losing faith and deciding to leave the church he grew up in
Making environmental documentaries during his film coursework
Her senior product design engineering lab
Grandmother teaching her how to cook as a child
Interning for a civil/environmental engineering firm focused on renewables
Interning for a human rights non-profit
Growing up in Slovakia
The route to becoming the collegiate national debate champion
Being on the swim team in college
Her favorite painting, which is by a Sudanese refugee who immigrated to the United States
Working at a local law firm
Moving from a rural environment to a major city
Studying abroad in Oxford
Personally facing police injustice
Living and studying in France
Working underneath the mayor of a major city
Turning around his college improv troupe
Once you’ve generated a list of ideas, choose the one that most compellingly answers ALL of the following questions:
Why go to law school?
Before applying , let alone writing your personal statement, you should be crystal clear on why applying to law school is the logical next step for your ambitions and career.
This matters because admissions committees see too many law school applications from people who just need another step—a credential, a degree to top off their BA in English and render them more employable, or a place to hide out for three years. Explaining how a law degree will help you achieve your professional goals is crucial.
What personal strengths do I have that are not apparent in the rest of my application?
The admissions committees get two windows into your personality and life beyond the numbers: your personal statement and your letters of recommendation . Since, at the very least, you know what context your professors and/or other recommenders have on your professional and academic life, you can also deduce which aspects of yourself they might miss out on that an admissions officer would find compelling. The personal statement is a great place to highlight those.
Why do I want to attend this school specifically?
You should be able to articulate the reasons why a particular school appeals to you. Does the school have a strong reputation for your intended specialty (e.g., public interest law, constitutional law, intellectual property law)? Is there a specific faculty member with whom you want to conduct research? Is there a student organization on campus that can benefit from your expertise and leadership?
The more you’re able to tailor your personal statement to each school, the greater your chances of admission. This requires thorough research: look at the school’s website, reach out to current students and faculty members, and go on a campus tour if possible.
How do I embody the qualities of a good lawyer?
Your personal statement shouldn’t just tell a story of your own past, present, and future. In an ideal world, it’ll also speak to one or more of those intangible qualities that we listed above, or that you came up with in conversation with attorneys or professors. An admissions committee should be able to read your essays and think, “Yes, I see how this person will fit right into our larger legal world, because they’ll have to call on these qualities every day.”
How our students applied these principles
Teresa’s desire to be a lawyer is tied to her background in engineering. She wants her future career to be technical, but she sees real appeal in the skills that practicing law would employ, which has her thinking that a career in IP law could be a good fit. When she writes her essay, she wants to make sure she refers to her engineering expertise. Her idea to write about her experience on a product design engineering team survives this scrutiny.
It also demonstrates a fascination for creative problem-solving, and one can easily see how an engineer could turn her analytical mind toward the law.
Tucker, as we mentioned, was politically active throughout college, but much of that activity was informal, so he found it hard to capture in his resume or elsewhere. He wants to use his personal statement to highlight some of that passion, so he’s chosen to write about his Appalachian roots through the lens of the local candidate he worked with and how they relate to his advocacy. This topic also shows off Tucker’s passionate commitment to a whole constellation of causes and paints a clear picture of how he might use his law degree—to return home to North Carolina to address major systemic issues like poverty, racism, and the opioid crisis.
If you feel like you still have a few winners after narrowing on those criteria, you still have to pick just one. The final selection should be a combination of all the above lessons, while also asking yourself, “Which of these can tell the best story?” At the end of the day, great personal statements tell a story, and some of your ideas probably map more easily to that reality than others. If the idea doesn’t yield a story, it may not be your best. Kill it.
These questions may serve as a litmus test for whether an idea can turn into a good tale:
Do you have a story and not just a topic? In other words, can you reference a specific anecdote (a day, a summer)? Could you, if pressed, write a scene, with characters and images to illustrate your larger narrative?
Is yours a story no one else could tell? If there were other people who did your exact same jobs, or attended your exact same university, could they come up with the same essay?
Is there a natural tension or conflict present?
Did you change at all from the beginning to the end of the relevant time period? How? Was it a surprise?
In telling this story, will you sound like yourself, or is there a risk that you’ll have to write robotically or flatly?
Whichever idea you choose, you should be able to answer yes to at least one of these questions.
To that end, while Deepika felt at first that her time at a local law firm melded naturally with her desire to go to law school, the emotional arc she identified in how moved she was by the painting and the emigré narrative of the artist felt an easier story to tell, not to mention a more unique one (law schools read a lot of essays about being a paralegal).
Similarly, Pavel was torn between writing about his debate experiences or interning with an NGO, but his version of the former gives more insight into who he is and how he’s changed and grown, which means he’ll be able to tell a better story.
Eric, for his part, opted to tell a story that was personally gut-wrenching but which drew a very clear connection between him and the law: the moment a police officer wrongfully arrested him for “loitering.”
And Victor made a bold choice: he didn’t really choose. Instead, he decided to use several of his experiences as canvas in a larger, quilted story about his passions and sense of self.
Before you dive into writing the best personal statement the admissions committee has ever seen, it’s often useful to create an outline. An outline will keep your ideas organized and help you write more efficiently.
Here’s one path you could follow as you outline:
First paragraph: Lead with the anecdote or story
It may be tempting to write straight away about the importance of the legal system or why you’re excited about a particular school, but beginning with your narrative draws readers in more effectively. In addition to hooking readers, an essay that tells a story will be more memorable than one that feels focused entirely on listing your readiness for or interest in studying the law. To drive this home further, every applicant has an interest in studying the law. Pinning that interest to a story only you can tell will make your application all the more memorable.
How do you know what the right anecdote is? Remember how our litmus tests above asked about scenes? A story is a story—rather than an idea or a topic—if it can be populated with vivid descriptions of the characters and setting. Can you recall the smell of the damp room where you sat when it was announced that your boss has won the state senate seat? How did you feel on the first day of your new teaching job in the Texas border town? What was the weather like? How big was the space? Who else was there? Did someone say something particularly memorable?
Another way to check for your anecdote is to think about what growth or change you’re trying to demonstrate through the essay. What was the beginning of that growth or change? What, in other words, was the inciting incident that kicked off your epiphany or transformation?
This opening anecdote or personal hook is the place our only you litmus test matters most. No one else should be able to tell this story the way you can tell this story. Your personal views, history, and perspective will color what details pop out.
Tucker chose to open with a beautiful, personal reflection on the place that shaped him. It both sets the stage with narrative finesse, literally demonstrating place and space, but also gives us an inciting incident that spurred Tucker’s new relationship to his hometown.
Note also that Tucker’s opening is not explicitly or even obviously related to the law. Take a look:
I did not know that my home town was a small one until I was 15 years old. Growing up, I thought I lived in the big city, because Greensboro has skyscrapers—isn’t that the dividing line between the big city and not? It’s also the first town that appears on interstate signs in North Carolina once you get on I-40, headed west from Durham. I figured if the interstate thought we were important, why shouldn’t I? So when I went to Rochester, New York in tenth grade for a student conference with my friends at school, I proudly announced that I was from Greensboro to the first person who asked, only to have her, a Bronx resident, respond, “Uh, where?” It was then that I learned one thing it could not claim to be was “the big city.”
Eric also set a scene in vivid, visceral, painful detail. Because his story was so intense, he didn’t limit himself to just one paragraph at the start. He took his time, the way a lawyer would, laying out every component of what happened to him when he was wrongfully arrested, and demonstrating everything he witnessed as part of the process. This sets him up to level a layered and specific critique of the system that was responsible for his arrest.
After less than four minutes of waiting on the front lawn of my private property for my uncle to arrive, I was arrested and forced into a squad car without a reason for my arrest. As he tightened the cold handcuffs on my wrists, the arresting officer asked my age. Perplexed, I informed him I was eighteen years old. “Great,” he exclaimed, as he slammed the door in my face while he exchanged smiles with his partner. Oblivious, I waited in the back seat, as he drove down the block, anxiously awaiting an explanation for my arrest. Less than thirty seconds after forcing me in the car, the police officer jumped out of the car, pursued an unsuspecting boy riding his bike in the neighborhood, aggressively pulled him from his moving bike, and placed him in handcuffs. After throwing the boy in the back seat with me, the cop sped off—leaving the boy’s bike behind on the sidewalk to be stolen. The caravan of police proceeded to rampage the area arresting more young men walking through the neighborhood.
On the ride to the police station, I repeatedly asked the officer the reason for my arrest. After a few minutes of ignoring my questions, he said he arrested us for loitering. After arriving at the police station, the cops expressed their disapproval of my choice of clothing. At that moment it was clear that I was profiled based on my appearance alone.
A couple of hours later, my mother arrived and demanded my release. When releasing me, the cops repeatedly apologized to my mother insisting that they did not know they had a “good kid.” The whole experience left me wondering how many people, besides the ones I witnessed, are wrongfully arrested or wrongfully convicted, due to their appearance, ignorance, and lack of access to quality legal advice and representation.
Lastly, let’s look at Victor’s essay, which took an unconventional approach. He didn’t begin with a specific anecdote, but he did take on the voice of a storyteller.
The house is quiet—its residents have been asleep for some time now. In a modest room on the second floor, only faint specks of moonlight peek through the window blinds. A few of these beams land on a small, round face, his eyes glittering in the darkness. Although he retreated to his bedroom hours ago, sweet slumber eluded him. This was not the first time: for as long as he could remember, he would lie awake when he should have been in repose, his mind excitedly flitting from one thought to the next. He pictured distant lands, from Spain with its beautiful language and world-renowned cuisine, to his parents’ mother country of Ghana, where farmers journeyed for miles to sell their wares in vibrant cities teeming with life. He also loved superheroes, and he sometimes imagined himself launching into the sky like Superman, sailing through the air as quickly as possible to help a family in need. At this late hour, when the sun had not yet nudged above the horizon and his loved ones were just beginning to dream, he was obsessed with the world not as it was, but as it could be.
Victor knows that someone might read his application and wonder about his seeming lack of focus. By opening here, he demonstrates that his diversity of interests is a core part of who he is, and that he wasn’t a waffler or a flip-flopper but, rather, a curious person by nature.
Body paragraphs: Convey who you are
You should try to accomplish the following in your body paragraphs. They don’t—and probably shouldn’t—happen in this order, with each of the below points being assigned to a paragraph. But as you write, you ought to be able to pull off each of the following.
Connect the narrative to a thesis. Only after you’ve told the story should you articulate your thesis, your “here’s why I am applying to law school/want to be a lawyer/care about the law.”
Teresa accomplished this beautifully. She opened with a personal anecdote about her father’s annual “Design Days,” days in which the family would make physical things, and which spurred in her a love of creating with her hands. It’s not obvious what that has to do with the law at first, which is part of what makes it a great opening. By the third paragraph, she links it brilliantly to her legal preoccupations, and, in doing so, explains why a former engineer is applying to law school.
But the reality for many creators in America is that their work is under threat. The chief protection for many fledgling creators, whether they’re scientists or engineers or musicians or writers, is the legal system. Patent trolls aim to trounce startups; large institutions create environments unfriendly to more nascent artists. In between them stand good lawyers ready to defend the individual artist, scientist, inventor. While the American intellectual property system is not void of imperfections, it remains true that copyright and patents can and should protect the creations of every person who experiences the same precious sense of creativity my father introduced me to every November 1.
Articulate what kind of lawyer you hope to be. You might have a sense of what sort of law you want to practice, whether it’s being a defense attorney or general counsel for a big corporation. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Go back to the qualities you came up with in the brainstorming phase. What values and ideals does your life so far reflect, and what do those have to do with the kind of legal career you hope to have? This doesn’t have to take up too much space. Deepika neatly and simply explains:
I want to apply my desire for more legal experience specifically to the problem of migration.
Connect the personal to the professional. Don’t leave your opening personal anecdote out to dry. Even something that has ostensibly nothing to do with the law, like, say, Deepika’s choice to write about the artist, will need to say something about your own commitment to pursuing the law.
Remember, though, that by this point, you’ve defined what exactly the law means to you , which should help you connect your personal story to the legal profession. You don’t need to draw a through line from your grandmother’s illness to late nights as an associate lawyer working off your school debt. But you can connect your presence throughout your grandmother’s illness to the continuity of care that you’ll give your clients when they sue nursing homes for negligence.
Take a look at how Tucker does that at the end of his personal statement, which has spent most of its time in the terrain of the personal, but turns toward the professional as it closes.
The Appalachian conversation is necessarily a legal one. As some Carolinians line up along racial boundaries, many good lawyers are working to combat the mass incarceration of minority populations, while other good lawyers champion free speech for even the most maligned activists. When free speech intertwines with debates about white nationalism and the South's history, impact litigators argue multiple sides to arrive at good legal judgments that do not stop at popular opinion. As my own mayor was maligning the presence of refugees, Virginia immigration lawyers were ensuring that local migrants were educated about their rights and responsibilities. The rigor in pursuit of justice that legal conversation applies has an immense role to play in these heated debates.
In particular, the conversation about race can go deeper here at home than most are willing to take it. One issue that has faced recent attention in the highest courts is equal representation in the electorate. Studying at Harvard will train me to ensure that existing civil rights are protected. It will teach me about the viewpoints informing present discussions of how civil rights are defined and advocated for. While race, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws are contentious issues on a national scale, both recent attention and my deep roots in the region have made it clear to me that North Carolina is a place where the legal conversation needs to be carried further. I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.
Don’t lose your sense of story. Often, when we reach the middle of the essay, we’ve grown tired and are eager to start summarizing our resumé.
Remember that you still need to maintain the narrative propulsion that you introduced by kicking off with an anecdote or personal hook. Another way of saying this is that you need to remain present throughout the body paragraphs. As with the whole essay, ask, with every paragraph: am I the only person who could have written this? Or could one of my fellow interns at the Goldman Sachs legal program have come up with the same take?
Victor does a great job of maintaining his commitment to the storyteller’s voice, even in the middle of his essay, as he’s showing off his professional accomplishments. Witness his use of character and dialogue here:
“I hope you have had no issues settling into life here… Now, on to business. What’s wrong with this city?” the Mayor asked softly, rapidly twirling his pen in the process. Needless to say, I was floored; it was my third day in public service, and I could not think of a weightier question, one with tremendous implications for the large city where I’d taken a job. Although I felt under-qualified for such a task, he was confident in my ability to review the city’s finances from a completely blank slate. A week later, we ruminated over innovative approaches to topics ranging from how to name our city a “sanctuary city” to solving the region’s major infrastructure issues. While there were clear legal frameworks for operating within each of these spaces, we also had substantial freedom to propose what we wished.
As we refined our proposals, I realized that laws gave us the framework necessary to think critically about what was possible, but they rarely led to a clear conclusion about how to proceed. Final decisions would come as a result of deliberations with relevant internal and external parties, discussions with our counterparts in nearby cities and regions, vetting particular approaches with members of our staff and even state Senators, and checking our conclusions against the advice offered by legal counsel. No one group could act unilaterally, and our contributions were but a small piece of a larger policymaking apparatus.
Demonstrate change and growth over time, and remember that it’s not the same thing as flip-flopping. Two key components of a compelling story are conflict and resolution. Something, in other words, has to change between the beginning and the end. The middle is a great place for that to happen. You can think of it the way fiction writers think about plot: a set of events alongside a set of emotional shifts. The events incite the emotional shifts.
Deepika does this by addressing her former interest in medicine, and explaining how it gradually shifted to an interest in the law. She doesn’t pretend that she’s always wanted to be a lawyer. It’ll be obvious from her transcripts and extracurriculars that her interests lay elsewhere . Making this change part of her narrative is a good choice:
I was spending the summer working for a public health nonprofit based in Kenya, exploring a future career in medicine, and I’d used my weekend to visit a gallery with some local friends. Despite growing up in a family that appreciated art deeply, no one had equipped me for a moment where a painting could bring me so immediately to tears. Agnostic to the artist’s story, which I got only after he saw my reaction to his work, the painting itself was just such a guttural and emotional work. Something about how directly he’d translated his own trials into the medium flew straight through me. The name of the piece was “Resurrection,” and it was scratched from a discarded advertisement board that he had repurposed. The faceless figure told a story of a life plagued by violence, that violence rendered on the work itself with haphazard scratching and peeling of the paint. I was breathless seeing what he had gone through, and thinking of how that had made its way onto the “canvas.” We talked for a while, swapping our very different stories of moving countries. After, I said a sincere thank you, and I left.
By the end of that summer semester, I was sure that medicine was not the career for me. But I didn’t immediately know where to put all my passion. In a moment of serendipity, I was able to experience firsthand the value of the legal world and see attorneys in action by working as a paralegal. The hands-on legal experience I received there was ultimately vital to my decision to practice law, but I return to that summer in Nairobi as a real clarion call to do something different.
Conclusion: Tie it all together
After telling a story and spending time articulating your goals more clearly, a concluding paragraph can leave the reader with an understanding of who you are and why you’re applying—the best result you can hope for from a good personal statement.
There are a number of ways to think about an ending, which can be the toughest, and most easily clichéd part, of any essay.
First, let it happen naturally, rather than forcing it. We recommend not stressing about the ending until you’ve written your way to it. An essay that ends in exactly the spot you thought it would when you began it risks sounding cliché.
Second, declarative statements often make for clichéd endings. Things like “and that’s why I want to become a lawyer” or “and I’ll use these skills every day in my life as an attorney” can sometimes work, but often read as default options. If everyone can come up with that ending, it might not be a good one.
For Tucker, it works. He writes:
I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.
This simple sentence works because so much of Tucker’s essay has involved literary writing and reflection on place. A declarative statement won’t hurt him here. It’s also a gentle, nice touch to end on the words “my home,” since his essay has been about what it means to belong to a particular stretch of land.
Third, consider ending on an image or with a call-back to where you began the essay. This is one of the most organic and satisfying ways to conclude any piece of writing.
Deepika’s essay, for instance, opens on a painting done by a refugee artist, and then zooms out to discuss her own life story. But she brings the personal statement full circle by returning to the inciting image:
Recalling that artist’s story both in his own words and by seeing “Resurrection,” I understood what a privilege it is to have a legal system that can uphold freedom of expression, and one that also makes way for new futures for immigrants like my parents year after year.
To that end, I want to apply my desire for more legal experience specifically to the problem of migration. In addition to the real personal transition that this artist’s work opened for me, this decision feels an important one now more than ever as the current administration angles toward, I believe, increasingly harmful and inconsistent implementations of immigration policy to the detriment of young children who could one day paint a Resurrection II.
Victor’s essay pulls off a similar circular structure. He began with a third-person portrait of himself as a young boy, dreaming voraciously of all that he wants to discover in the world. He closes with a portrait of who he is now, a polymath of sorts who has begun to make some of those discoveries but who needs the law to help him go further:
Two decades later, that little boy staring up into the darkness has become an adult, but his penchant for moonlit dreaming has never waned. In fact, those dreams are now accompanied by a set of experiences with the potential to carry such visions forward into a life of impact and service to others. After having the opportunity to explore a variety of roles, I cannot think of a better long-term career with which to realize my unique ambitions at the intersection of business, public policy, and community activism than legal practice. Whether I provide pro bono advice to city government, serve as counsel to an international company, or represent my community as a public servant, a career in the law is my chance to fly into the fray and create something once thought unthinkable for collective benefit. My thoughts may never rest long enough to ensure an immediate night’s sleep, but I might finally obtain a deeper peace through advocacy and service.
After you’ve finished the first draft of your law school personal statement
First, congratulations! Writing the first draft of your personal statement is no small feat. But the work has just begun! Your personal statement should undergo several revisions before submitting. Some tips for revising:
Read your essay aloud. By doing so, you will notice small typos and wording issues, as well as larger issues with form, that you wouldn’t otherwise. Reading aloud shifts the way your brain consumes the work, sometimes to great effect. It also helps you get a sense for how much an essay has your voice. You should sound like yourself when you read your essay aloud.
Ask for feedback. You should have a peer, professor, or admissions advisor read your essay. The core question to ask them to evaluate is, “Do you have a good sense of who I am and why I want to attend law school after reading this?” If the answer is no, revisions are necessary.
For big changes, rewrite instead of editing. This one can be a bit of a pain after investing all the time you have, but if you decide to make a large change in form or content, start again with a blank page. It can be tempting to preserve your existing structure and just slot in the changes where they fit, but you’ll end up with a more cohesive and coherent final product if you start anew.
You needn’t trash everything you wrote, of course. Print out a hard copy of your original, keep it on the table beside you, and open a clean doc. Rewriting from scratch whatever you do keep rather than performing a simple copy-paste will ensure you end up with one essay at the end, rather than two spliced together.
Below are the law school personal statements produced by the students we’ve followed throughout this guide, all well another successful personal statement example, all based on the writing process we just walked through.
Law school personal statement example 1
Here’s Tucker’s Harvard Law School personal statement.
That student conference, as well as the handful of other opportunities I had to travel in high school, was my first inkling that, for many people, the Blue Ridge Mountains were not a known part of the very big world I grew up aching to see more of. Because even before I realized that Greensboro was no major landmark, I still wanted to explore beyond it. My mother taught French and Spanish and was always eager to ensure I realized there were places beyond my backyard. I was also exhausted by the idea of graduating college and returning home to work in Greensboro, where, at the time, jobs were not always plentiful and hobbies were few. But, for financial reasons, college was not my long-dreamt-of exodus. I went to the University of North Carolina, which, while an hour away, certainly belongs to the same chunk of Carolina as Greensboro.
In Chapel Hill, I loved long drives. My road of choice was Mount Sinai Road. It winds down the banks of Old Field Creek, bridging the gap between Durham and I-40. It's the start of the route I took back to High Point to visit my family, and it's where I rode my bike during Chapel Hill summers. It was on Mount Sinai that I first realized how attached to this region I am.
Along Mount Sinai’s twists and turns, you can get a real sense of what North Carolina is and can be. There’s a deep agrarian heritage and rolling hills that hide the sun from their most intimate holler. Along these roads live a people who do not mind being heard, as their “These are God’s roads, so don’t drive like hell” sign would have you know. Most of all, though, Mount Sinai was one of many places over the last 25 years in Appalachia that taught me how much this land means to me. I recognize the grasses and the trees and the architecture and the people in a way that I could not possibly know another place, and that knowledge has rooted me in a way that I did not expect as a child at a student conference in Rochester, New York.
As I realized how distinctly Appalachian my own personal history is, I started to see similar connections in my family. I learned of our family struggles with substance use and of my mother's father’s affinity for our Confederate heritage. I learned I'm only a few generations removed from the McCoys of Hatfield-McCoy fame. I learned that the not-so-rosy Appalachian existence was not a storybook reality but a familial one. However, I also learned of my grandfather's sense of adventure and of the unique sense of play my father was gifted with as a child by being able to spend so much time outside in the crick. I learned that my grandmother once modeled for the rail photographer O. Winston Link and that my great uncle once threw a snowball at Elvis.
In the last year, I also saw Appalachia couched in a larger national context, especially as I tried to reckon with my home place from afar while living and working abroad last summer. I intimately knew the people, “the poor, white, rural voters,” being bandied about as political caricatures on television. As the opiate crisis worsens, a national spotlight is being thrust on my neighbors in West Virginia. As commentators wonder how much historical context justifies the presence of Confederate monuments, attention turns to Charlottesville. My home place, my Appalachia, is becoming a topic of a much larger conversation about how to support the plight of the rural American while not also succumbing to the part of that population that longs for an unequal, racist past. I believe my voice adds to that conversation. So, I took to door-knocking for Representative Edward Mitchell, knowing that the first impact I might have could be a political one. I don’t want to stop there. The law can open even more doors.
What works about Tucker’s essay, among many things:
Writing. Tucker writes fluently and smoothly, especially when he’s thinking about place and the world that shaped him. The images, the roads, and local vocabulary like “the local holler,” all contribute to the strength of his writing. Even if sentences don’t come to you naturally, you can shortcut your way to a great personal statement by including vivid descriptions of your surroundings.
An authentic connection to the law. Tucker lingers in the personal for quite a long time in this essay, and he does so because he knows he can make that confident transition: “The Appalachian conversation is a necessarily legal one.” It’s so deftly argued that we don’t even realize he’s been sculpting an argument all along, using his personal experience as a case study.
Law school personal statement example 2
Another example, a Yale Law School personal statement, this time from Teresa:
November 1 is my favorite day of the year. When I was growing up, my father would call it “Design Day.” I think he liked the alliteration. He loves woodworking, and he would spend the early fall amassing natural treefall from the woods behind our house in anticipation of November 1. Every year, he’d spend the day making things, small and large, whether a bird with a bandsaw or a new coffee table. He first invited me out into the garage when I was seven. I still wonder why he felt the imperative to concentrate so much of his hobby time into that one day, but I think he understood pinning it to a date would make it somehow more special, even if it was an arbitrary one.
Over the years, in that garage, and especially as an early teen, I learned how valuable it was to create something, to make a thing you call your own. That same feeling was reborn as a senior at Purdue University. As part of my studies in mechanical engineering, my classmates and I were required to join one of myriad senior design teams. The topics ranged from designing our own delivery drones to creating various nanotechnology applications. I eventually decided to work on a project designing new flatpack shelters that could be deployed in disaster areas with improved durability and sustainability, because I was excited by the real-world applications of my studies helping others. I saw not only my own progress first-hand, but also the development of others’, and, yet again, again the intrinsic value of a made thing.
The crux of my shift from wanting to be a maker myself to instead wanting to lend my voice to their defense was seeing Dr. Everett Simpson in action. Dr. Simpson, himself a lawyer, now teaches engineering ethics but spent the spring semester consulting all of the projects with patentable work on their IP obligations and rights. The care with which he approached the issues, but especially our interactions, opened my eyes to a world in which I might leverage my technical expertise as an advocate rather than an engineer, a combination I find so appealing.
It’s thanks to those interactions with Dr. Simpson, backed by my father’s own creativity from day one, that has led me to apply to Yale Law School. Knowing that your program in IP law is a strong one and being especially excited by the research that Professor Yochai Benkler is doing on the intellectual commons, I am confident that after three years at Yale, I will be positioned well to train as an advocate for those creators near and far.
What’s great about Teresa’s essay:
Multiple life stages. Teresa, like Deepika, has been fully committed to another discipline at one point in her life. Instead of defensively explaining why she’s moving into law now, she uses her past experience as a “maker” to explain that her previous engineering life naturally and inevitably brought her to the law. She tackles this intersection from both a personal and a professional standpoint, moving from her father to Dr. Simpson with ease.
“Why us?” Teresa’s “Why us?” addendum at the end of the essay is neat but strong. She clearly knows more about the school than what a simple Google search could yield. Referencing Dr. Benkler, whose appointment is in economics, isn’t an obvious choice for a law school candidate, but indicates that she’s grasped her field from multiple disciplinary perspectives.
Law school personal statement example 3
Here’s another full-length law school personal statement example, from Deepika:
He lives in Nairobi now. He was not born there: He grew up in Sudan, along the Nile. On a few separate occasions, he was dismissed from his studies for his political involvement, a reality I can know about but find hard to internalize. After a few efforts to pursue his practice in Sudan he left Khartoum for Benghazi. I don’t know his name. What I do remember is how it felt to see his paintings for the first time.
What we can admire from Deepika’s essay:
An unlikely take on the personal. Many applicants feel that a personal story must involve them shedding blood on the page. Deepika doesn’t get enormously vulnerable here. She doesn’t talk about Big Traumas that happened to her; in fact, she feels like she’s been pretty lucky, all told. But she does talk about a personal connection to art, and that is quite a strong window into who she is.
Ending. Deepika’s return to the painting at the end of her essay makes the whole essay feel natural, and indicates an authentic relationship to questions of immigration. It also tells us that she’s thought about what her commitment to immigration policy could change in the world, that she’s got a fully formed view of society.
Law school personal statement example 4
Here’s Eric’s Columbia Law School personal statement:
After less than four minutes of waiting on the front lawn of my private property for my uncle to arrive, I was arrested and forced into a squad car without a reason for my arrest. As he tightened the cold handcuffs on my wrists, the arresting officer asked my age. Perplexed, I informed him I was eighteen-years-old. “Great,” he exclaimed, as he slammed the door in my face while he exchanged smiles with his partner. Oblivious, I waited in the back seat, as he drove down the block, anxiously awaiting an explanation for my arrest. Less than thirty seconds after forcing me in the car, the police officer jumped out of the car, pursued an unsuspecting boy riding his bike in the neighborhood, aggressively pulled him from his moving bike, and placed him in handcuffs. After throwing the boy in the back seat with me, the cop sped off—leaving the boy’s bike behind on the sidewalk to be stolen. The caravan of police proceeded to rampage the area arresting more young men walking through the neighborhood.
During this experience and others similar to it, I was most uncomfortable with the feeling of being helpless and not well-informed about my rights. I did not like that my lack of knowledge prevented me from defending my rights and the rights of others. This experience was just one of the many instances where I witnessed a person in power abuse their authority to trample the rights of people who were not knowledgeable of their rights and did not have the resources necessary to access legal advice. My ignorance of my rights during these types of experiences was frustrating and also frightening. Being at the mercy of an apparently ethically unsound figure of authority who seemed to make arbitrary and capricious decisions, that could greatly impact my life, was very unsettling.
Witnessing grave miscarriages of justice has inspired me to equip myself with the tools necessary to fight unjust situations. These experiences have definitely fostered my desire to educate and advocate for those disadvantaged individuals and communities.
My experiences in the Columbia Law School Law Clinic reaffirmed my interest in advocating for socioeconomically challenged individuals and communities. During my time in the law clinic, I have been exposed to a plethora of pro bono opportunities and organizations. Some of the causes I’ve been able to dedicate my time to include: assisting an innocent man, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for eighteen years, with his exoneration; helping asylum seekers, who face the threat of being killed in their home country because of their sexuality or regional violence, through the asylum application process; assisting disabled and elderly Hurricane Sandy victims gain access to much needed food benefits; and assisting small business owners with filing their organizational documents with the state. Coming from a socioeconomically challenged background myself and being able to assist with matters that I can empathize and sympathize with has made me yearn for more knowledge that would better equip me to help indigent people in need of legal assistance.
After deeply scrutinizing legal field, working towards great causes in Columbia’s Law Clinic, and actively seeking various opinions about law school and the legal field, I believe law school is the next logical step for me to fulfill my aspirations to advocate for socioeconomically disadvantaged people on a more substantive level. I know I will be a great lawyer and be a positive agent of change. I fight tirelessly towards causes that I strongly believe in; and as a result I put forth great work that reflects the amount of effort expended.
I am sure that at the Columbia University School of Law I will be able to access a quality legal education that will challenge and prepare me for my future as an advocate for the more vulnerable members of society. I know that Columbia Law School will provide an intellectually nurturing environment that offers a bounty of experiential learning opportunities that are beneficial to my preferred learning style, and continue to surround me with individuals that will contribute to my growth and push me to strive for more. Columbia Law will also allow me to utilize my unique perspective, experiences, and skills to continue to make valuable contributions to the Columbia University community in and outside of the classroom.
What we can learn from Eric’s essay:
A clear tie between the personal and the professional. Eric chose to write about an extremely vulnerable moment in his history, one that might be an intuitive choice these days as we become more used to public conversations about the “grave miscarriages of justice” Eric writes about but which, a few years ago, might have seemed like a risky choice. By going there, and by linking it to his professional career so clearly, he gives us a memorable essay and tells us that he will be working to correct that injustice for many years to come.
Descriptions of prior professional work. Eric clearly articulates what he got out of his work at the Law Clinic, enumerating his involvements without making them seem too flat. He then draws a neat line between those experiences and what he wants out of law school at the same institution.
Law school personal statement example 5
Below is Victor’s University of Chicago Law School personal statement:
The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked for a law firm in my hometown as an assistant case manager. It was my first real job, and we were tasked with following up on the results of a settlement which promised compensation to individuals injured by cigarette use. Many of the claimants in the suit were not involved with the original case, but a wrinkle in the law meant that those who had not initially issued a claim could still stand to receive reparations. During that time, I witnessed the devastating impact of tobacco use on countless lives, and I was given an opportunity to think creatively about how to defend their claims. Whether it was by recovering medical records that could credibly tie cigarette use to the onset of disease, or looking back decades to find proof of a claim under the original settlement, we worked tirelessly to help grant our clients restitution. It was seldom a straightforward process, yet we did our best even when key details were sparse.
Four years later, I joined a major corporation as a full-time legal analyst working directly for the management team of one of its nascent commercial arms. At first, I expected to focus on regular meetings of the Board of Directors and related tasks, such as scheduling in accordance with regulatory requirements, setting the annual agenda, and performing discrete analyses consistent with the Company’s ongoing legal needs. However, I was quickly assigned more abstract projects, rooted in questions such as “Where could the Company open a foreign branch?” and “How would proposed changes in regulation adversely impact the Company’s overall business?” When I joined the Company, I viewed the laws set by regulatory agencies as fixed mandates, but I soon learned that these laws were subject to considerable negotiation and amendment. The Company’s business model and its evolution raised legitimate questions about which functions the private sector should be allowed to perform, and my time there opened my eyes to the myriad potential organizations have to directly or indirectly shape the laws that govern their work.
“I hope you have had no issues settling into life here… Now, on to business. What’s wrong with this city?” the Mayor asked softly, rapidly twirling his pen in the process. Needless to say, I was floored; it was my third day in public service, and I could not think of a weightier question, one with tremendous implications for the large city where I’d taken a job. Although I felt under-qualified for such a task, he was confident in my ability to review the city’s finances from a completely blank slate. A week later, we ruminated over innovative approaches to topics ranging from how to name our city a “sanctuary city” to solving the region’s major infrastructure issues. While there were clear legal frameworks for operating within each of these spaces, we also had substantial freedom to propose what we wished. As we refined our proposals, I realized that laws gave us the framework necessary to think critically about what was possible, but they rarely led to a clear conclusion about how to proceed. Final decisions would come as a result of deliberations with relevant internal and external parties, discussions with our counterparts in nearby cities and regions, vetting particular approaches with members of our staff and even state Senators, and checking our conclusions against the advice offered by legal counsel. No one group could act unilaterally, and our contributions were but a small piece of a larger policymaking apparatus.
Two decades later, that little boy staring up into the darkness has become an adult, but his penchant for moonlit dreaming has never waned. In fact, those dreams are now accompanied by a set of experiences with the potential to carry such visions forward into a life of impact and service to others. After having the opportunity to explore a variety of roles, I cannot think of a better long-term career with which to realize my unique ambitions at the intersection of business, public policy and community activism than legal practice. Whether I provide pro bono advice to city government, serve as counsel to an international company, or represent my community as a public servant, a career in the law is my chance to fly into the fray and create something once thought unthinkable for collective benefit. My thoughts may never rest long enough to ensure an immediate night’s sleep, but I might finally obtain a deeper peace through advocacy and service.
What Victor does well:
Chronology. It’s not always the right call, but sometimes the best way to tell the story of yourself is to begin at the beginning, during your dreamy childhood days, and trace it up till now. This works in part because Victor is such a passionate writer, and in part because he remains in that storytelling mode throughout. This essay would fail if it were a series of monotonous descriptions of each stage of Victor’s life. But we feel like we are sitting across from him at a coffee shop and listening in on his professional reflections.
Tackling a diverse career path. Victor makes use of the plurality of work experiences he’s had, knowing that his resumé is fuller and he is older than many of his peers. He turns that into an advantage, in the way Teresa leverages her engineering background and Deepika addresses her roots in medicine head-on.
Law school personal statement example 6
Here’s another Yale Law School personal statement, this one written by a student named Michael.
“All of you men are alike!” a woman exclaimed from the back of the nursery. “Get away from my baby girl!” Rattled, I placed the yellow crayon next to the picture of the Easter Bunny I had been helping four-year-old Gabriela color. I smiled softly, thanked Gabriela for her time, and made my way to the opposite side of the room. Her mother deserved the ease.
When I first began volunteering with the Foster Center for Domestic Violence, I was skeptical I could be effective. As a young black male in the center, I served as a reminder of the physical harm, emotional turmoil, and ongoing legal entanglements ex-partners had inflicted on victims. The women in the center had initially responded to my presence with passive animosity or fear. Nevertheless, given time, I knew I would be able to help families in the center heal; I had years of experience successfully defying stereotypes.
In my childhood and adolescence, I attended safe schools. By day, I studied in clean classrooms with devoted teachers and classmates; by night, I fell asleep to the symphony of gunshots, helicopters, and sirens. Each day after school, my backpack crammed with seminal American novels and a dense chemistry textbook, I commuted home to my East Oakland 'hood, glancing over my shoulder and quickening my pace in areas I knew to be dangerous. One afternoon, as I raced away from a group of my “brothers,” I found myself empathetic. How could I be upset at their malice? This was our norm.
Surviving as a black male in my community left little time for ambition or altruism, but this did not deter me. In my junior year of high school, I turned my attention to the societal ailments, problems seemingly devoid of practical solution, which plagued the black community. Examining my life, I recognized that I owed my commitment to success and concern for others to my family. My family had provided the structure and support that too many of my brothers had lacked. Seeking to help families in my community recover and regroup, I began volunteering at the Foster Center.
Initially, I helped conduct workshops for the victims and recreational activities for the children, but as I spent more time at the center, I became interested in addressing domestic violence on a deeper level. At Howard University, my pre-law curriculum inspired me to confront the issue’s complexity. I pioneered a college-based effort, Foster University, that enlisted my brothers in the endeavor to deter domestic violence. More than five hundred students have participated in our programs to raise awareness of domestic violence through bold discussions. Following the initiative’s success in Washington, D.C., I began helping student leaders implement the program on campuses at other institutions. At the same time, I sought to encourage my peers to engage in the active pursuit of thorough and practical solutions to all social justice issues, especially domestic violence. I developed a second initiative to introduce legal writing to my undergraduate community while simultaneously satisfying my desire to develop solutions to the problems I had encountered. My interests in law and domestic violence led me to opportunities that fueled this desire even further. My impact had become tangible, but I still wanted to do more.
In the summer before my junior year, I interned at the Domestic Violence Division at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, where I assisted prosecutors with their caseloads and interviewed victims. The experience exposed me to the legal inefficiencies that had contributed to the frustration of the women at the Foster Center. Well-intentioned but shortsighted rulings destroyed families and unenforced orders of protection proved meaningless. Further, I was dismayed by the endless accounts of repeat offenders. As is too often the case, the legal system was failing those who most needed its protection.
By attending Yale Law School, I will prepare to work to heal at-risk families and our inadequate legal system. I will learn to address the institutional failures that frustrated Gabriela’s mother and the other women at the Foster Center. Yale Law School’s Beshar/Lehner Gender Violence Clinic and Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights will help me develop a contextual understanding of the social and legal complexities necessary for the change I envision. Furthermore, the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic will teach me to harness existing resources to empower victims of abuse and address a range of issues that plague marginalized populations. I no longer flee from my brothers. But my empathy is not enough. As an advocate and attorney, I will enlist the help of my brothers and sisters to reform broken institutions and enhance our community.
What we can learn from Michael’s personal statement:
A clear focus on a specific issue, and why it matters to him. Michael articulates clear reasons why working to prevent domestic violence and improving his community are important to him. He backs this up with directly relevant professional and volunteer experience, dating back even to high school.
“Why us?” Like Teresa, Michael has clearly done his homework about the law school he’s applying to. Naming specific programs and resources that he wants to be a part of demonstrates that Yale is a strong fit for the issues he wants to tackle as a lawyer.
How long should a personal statement be for law school?
Many universities won’t specify, but most others say between a page and a half and two pages double-spaced, which comes out to around 500 words.
What law school personal statement topics are off-limits?
Just about anything can make a good personal statement, as long as you adhere to the advice above.
One exception worth noting: you shouldn’t use your personal statement to talk about a low GPA or LSAT score. If you do feel you have a compelling context for one or both of those, you should submit a separate addendum focused on that, rather than waste valuable space in your personal statement.
Should I write a separate personal statement for each school?
While it’s okay to use the same narrative across applications, each essay should be tailored specifically to the school to which you’re applying. Make sure to triple-check that you didn’t refer to the wrong school at any point in your application.
THERE'S NO REASON TO STRUGGLE THROUGH THE LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS PROCESS ALONE, ESPECIALLY WITH SO MUCH ON THE LINE. SCHEDULE YOUR COMPLIMENTARY 30-MINUTE CONSULTATION TO ENSURE YOU LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE.
2 Law School Personal Statements That Succeeded
These examples of law school essays were critical components of successful law school applications.
Sincerity is an essential ingredient of a compelling law school admissions essay, one J.D. admissions expert says. (Getty Images)
Deciding what to say in the law school personal statement is the most challenging part of the admissions process for some applicants.
"Even people who are good writers often have a hard time writing about themselves," says Jessica Pishko, a former admissions consultant and writing tutor at Accepted, a Los Angeles-based admissions consulting firm. "That is perfectly normal."
Pishko, who coached law school applicants on how to overcome writer's block, says, "If you can find the thing that you really care about, that is who you are, and talking about that is a great way to write about yourself."
Why Law Schools Ask for Personal Statements
Personal statements can offer J.D. admissions committees "a narrative" about the applicant, which is important because it is rare for law schools to conduct admissions interviews, says Christine Carr, a law school admissions consultant with Accepted who previously was an associate director of admissions at Boston University School of Law .
The statement can help explain an applicant's reasons for wanting to attend law school , Carr adds.
"It can then add 'color' to a one-dimensional process," Carr wrote in an email. "The personal statement also allows the applicant to showcase writing ability. Law school and the legal profession require a clear and concise writing style that can be displayed by the applicant in the personal statement."
Personal statements often help admissions committees make difficult decisions, Carr says. "Given a relatively robust applicant pool, institutions often have more 'numerically' qualified applicants – LSAT and GPA – than they can admit," she explains.
Qualitative admissions factors, including not only personal statements but also resumes and recommendation letters , help to humanize applicants and "allow committees to build a community of law students not solely based on the quantifiable measures of test scores and transcripts," Carr says.
"Law schools are looking to fill classrooms with engaging and qualified students. The personal statement can provide insight into an applicant's personality and potential as a member of the school's community," she says.
What a Great Personal Statement Accomplishes
Excellent law school personal statements convey the essence of who an applicant is, experts say.
"The personal statement is the quickest way to get an overview, not only of the applicant's professional life and background, but in terms of what they emphasize, a clear indication of what the applicant themself, values," Jillian Ivy, CEO and founder of IvyCollegeEssay.com, a company that provides guidance on admissions essays, wrote in an email.
The statement "also gives admissions a snapshot of how well each applicant writes, if they understand how to brand or market their best traits, and thereby demonstrate that they know where their own strengths lie," Ivy adds.
A strong personal statement will articulate an applicant's vision for his or her future, including an explanation of short-term and long-term goals, and it will delineate how a J.D. degree will help an applicant get to where he or she wants to go, Ivy says.
"The more competitive the law school, the more admissions wants to see a level of understanding, drive and ambition within the personal statement," she explains, adding that applicants should clarify why they want to attend a particular law school and how that school can assist them on their career journey. "The schools want to see that the applicant has taken the time to understand what their particular program offers, and what makes it different."
How to Structure a Law School Personal Statement
The beginning of a solid law school personal statement ought to be intriguing, experts say.
"The statement should begin with a strong intro sentence, that summarizes the applicant's goal or tone," Ivy says. "For example, 'I have always been interested in international finance.' From there, the applicant would go on to describe 'why' they are interested in this area of financial law, and what in their unique background and experience has led them to pursue this path."
A personal statement provides context for the experiences that have prepared the applicant for law school and led him or her to pursue a legal career, experts say. It's also ideal to have a thoughtful ending "that ties the statement up," Ivy says.
An important point to address in a law school personal statement is what "sparked" the applicant's interest in law, Ivy says. She adds that law school admissions readers are aware that J.D. hopefuls' career goals may change between the time they apply to law school and the day they graduate.
Nevertheless, it can still be useful for an applicant to provide an explanation of what particular area of law he or she wants to learn more about and what type of lawyer he or she would like to become, if that is something the applicant is clear about, Ivy says.
An effective personal statement will also explain an applicant's background and how it has shaped him or her, Ivy adds. "It's connecting the dots back to anything at all that can be relevant ... to your new interest and what you want to pursue professionally."
Applicants should tailor their personal statement to each law school where they submit an application, Ivy adds. " Harvard Law School is very different than Columbia Law School even though both of them are excellent schools," she explains. "So each has their own approach to learning and to learning about law in particular."
Law school admissions committees appreciate when applicants make it clear that they have done thorough research on the school and its J.D. program . This reassures admissions officers that an applicant will be a good fit and make a valuable contribution to his or her law school class, Ivy explains.
Experts advise that a law school personal statement should align with the content in the rest of the law school application . Ideally, the essay will emphasize a selling point that is conveyed elsewhere in the application, but not simply repeat information.
In order for a personal statement to be effective and stand out, experts say, it needs to be both representative of who the applicant is and distinctive from personal essays that others have written.
How to Start Writing a Law School Personal Statement
Carr notes that writing a law school personal statement can be intimidating because it isn't easy to convey the essence of decades of events "into two pages double-spaced." She says law school hopefuls are often unsure about which portions of their life would be most meaningful and interesting to an admissions committee.
"Some applicants have a tendency to throw the 'kitchen sink' at committees and write about everything," Carr explains. But that's a mistake, Carr says, adding that J.D. personal statements should be "clear and concise."
Carr suggests that J.D. applicants concentrate on answering the central question of a law school personal statement, "Why law school?" Once they have brainstormed answers to that question, they should focus on a specific aspect or theme that explains their rationale for pursuing a career as an attorney, Carr says.
Ivy suggests that law school hopefuls who are struggling to decide what to write about in their law school personal statement should make a bullet-point list of the various topics they could focus on alongside brief one-sentence descriptions of each topic. The process of recording ideas on a piece of paper can clarify which ideas are most promising, she says.
"The strong ones will rise to the surface," she says, adding that once an applicant has narrowed down his or her list of essay ideas to only a few, it can be valuable to solicit feedback from trusted individuals about which of the remaining essay concepts is the very best.
Law school admissions experts suggest that applicants recall the various pivotal moments in their lives that shaped their identity, and then consider whether there is any idea or thesis that ties these events together.
Focusing on a central concept can help ensure that a law school personal statement does not simply list accomplishments in the way that a resume or cover letter might, experts say. Plus, an idea-driven essay can give law school admissions officers insight into the way a J.D. applicant's mind works.
A personal statement should illustrate the positive attributes the applicant has that would make him or her successful as a law student and lawyer. Sometimes the best way for an applicant to show his or her character strengths is to recount a moment when he or she was challenged and overcame adversity, experts say.
Experts advise law school hopefuls to write multiple drafts of their personal statement to ensure that the final product is top-notch.
They also recommend that applicants solicit feedback from people who understand the law school admissions process well, such as law school admissions consultants, and from people who know them well, such as close friends or family members. Getting input from friends and family can help ensure that an applicant's essay authentically conveys their personality, experts say.
Once the statement is finalized, Carr advises, the applicant should thoroughly proofread it more than once.
Mistakes to Avoid in Law School Personal Statements
A scatterbrained or disorganized approach in a law school personal statement is a major no-no, experts warn.
Ivy suggests that J.D. hopefuls avoid "rambling," adding that top law schools want to identify individuals who demonstrate that they are highly focused, ambitious, driven and persistent. "If you can hit those four things in your essay, then that's going to stand out, because most people don't know how to do that," she says.
Because it's important for a law school personal statement to be coherent and streamlined – like the law school resume – it's prudent to use an outline to plan the essay, Ivy says. The most common mistake she sees in J.D. personal statements is the lack of logical flow.
"Instead of a linear line, they're cycling around, and they'll touch on something, and then they'll come back to it again three paragraphs later," she says, adding that an unstructured essay is "just messy" and will not make a positive impression during the law school admissions process.
Experts warn that law school personal statements should not be vague, melodramatic and repetitive. The essay should not merely describe a person that the applicant met or recount an event – it needs to convey the applicant's personality.
Plus, language should be specific and clear. Absolutes like "never" or "always" are typically not the best words to use, experts warn, and it's important to not overshare personal information.
In addition, J.D. hopefuls should understand that they have a lot to learn about the law since they have not gone to law school. They should recognize that the individuals reading their essays probably know a great deal about the law, so they should not write essays that lecture readers about legal issues, experts warn.
Grammatical and spelling errors can tarnish an otherwise good personal statement, so it's important to avoid those, according to experts. It's also essential to follow any formatting rules that a law school outlines for personal statements.
Additionally, though many law school hopefuls are tempted to begin their personal statement with a dramatic anecdote, they should resist because doing so will most likely make a negative impression, experts warn. An aspiring attorney does not need to have suffered a tragedy in order to write a compelling law school personal statement, and describing something bad that has happened does not automatically lead to an effective essay.
Furthermore, when a J.D. applicant submits a generic law school personal statement that could go to any school, he or she is missing an opportunity to explain why a particular school is a great fit, experts suggest. Another common mistake, they say, is when applicants use a positive adjective to describe themselves rather than sharing an anecdote that demonstrates that they have this good quality.
Additionally, when a law school hopeful includes storytelling in his or her essay, it's best to focus on a single specific anecdote, because speaking in generalities is neither interesting nor convincing, experts say.
An applicant who writes a contrived essay based purely on what he or she believes a law school wants may come across as phony, experts say. It's essential, they say, for a personal statement to articulate what special perspective a prospective student could bring to a law school class.
Law School Personal Statement Examples
Below are two law school admissions essays whose authors were accepted to their top-choice law schools. The first is written by Waukeshia Jackson, an intellectual property attorney who earned her J.D. from the Paul M. Herbert Law Center at Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge . The second essay is written by Cameron Dare Clark, a Harvard Law School graduate.
Pishko says these two personal statements demonstrate the necessity of sincerity in an admissions essay. "It has to be sincere, and it has to be you and what you want to write about and why you want to go to law school.”
Both essays are annotated with comments from the authors about how the essays were written as well as comments from Pishko about passages that resonated best and how the essays could be improved.
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Sample law school personal statement essays.
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- Sample Essays
You are a thoughtful, intelligent, and unique individual. You already know that—now you just need to convince top law school adcoms that you're a cut above the rest. To do so you need to write a powerful personal statement for law school. Let's first discuss what that personal statement should be and then examine examples and what made them powerful.
A law school personal statement tells the part of your story that reveals your motivation for attending law school and the reasons you will make a great lawyer (or whatever career you want to pursue after law school).
By reading the sample law school essays provided below, you should get a clear idea of how to translate your qualifications, passions, and individual experiences into words. You will see that the samples here employ a creative voice, use detailed examples, and draw the reader in with a clear writing style. Most importantly, these personal statements are compelling—each one does a fine job of convincing you that the author of the essay is a human being worth getting to know, or better yet, worth having in your next top law school class.
These sample law school personal statement essays are here to stimulate your writing juices, not to shut them down or persuade you to think that these essays represent templates that you must follow. The writers of these essays, who were all once law school applicants just like you, sat down, thought about their stories, and crafted these essays. However, their first step, significant self-reflection and thought, you can’t see. They didn’t use a template or try to shoehorn their story into someone else’s story. You shouldn’t either. But you should take the same first step that they took: Think about your life, the influences upon it, and why you want to obtain a legal education.
Your story will be different from these author’s stories, but as you review all four of the sample essays you will see commonalities among them, which are highlighted below. You will also see that they are very different essays written by individuals reflecting their different life experiences and dreams. The authors of each of these essays were all accepted to law school, in some cases to elite U.S. law schools.
Now let’s explore what you can learn from each of these outstanding sample law school essays.
Lessons from Law School Sample Essay #1: The Archaeologist Enthusiast
- Attention-grabbing opening - The author of the essay immediately grabs the readers’ attention by placing them in the midst of the scene and vividly conveying what the author felt and saw as well as the excitement she felt.
- Vivid, visual opening and consistent use of opening imagery - You can practically feel the dripping sweat and the heat at the opening of this essay because the applicant used vivid, sensory language that we can all relate to. She also quickly develops a metaphor comparing archaeological excavation with research in general and legal research specifically. She uses the imagery of archaeology (“finding the shard of glass,” “reconstructing the pot”) consistently throughout the personal statement to convey not only the unusual experiences she’s had in the past, but to show her love of research and analysis.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together- Her essay has a clear theme, which she states at the end of the first paragraph and in her conclusion. (You may not need to state it twice; that depends on your essay.) The applicant also relates every experience in the essay to her theme of research, analysis, and discovery.
- Solid structure - Because her theme is so strong, the essay is easy to follow even though she has diverse experiences that aren’t obviously related to each other – archaeology in Spain, research on Colombian environmental policy, working for an online real estate company considering entry into the art market, and her travels.
- Good use of transitions - Transitions help your reader move from one topic to the next as you connect the topic in the preceding paragraph to the topic in the next. They can consist of a few words or a phrase or simply repetition of the topic by name as opposed to using a pronoun. The first paragraph in this sample essay ends with “research and analysis” and the next paragraph begins with “The challenge of researching and analyzing an unknown subject” as she turns from her introduction to her enjoyment of academic life and the research she had done in college.
While one could argue that perhaps she has too many subtopics in this essay, because of the strong theme and excellent use of transitions, the essay holds together and highlights her diversity of experience, curiosity, and sense of adventure.
Most importantly this law school personal statement earned its author a seat at an elite T10 law school.
Click here to read the essay >>
Lessons from Law School Sample Essay #2: Returning to School
This sample law school personal statement is about half the length of Essay 1 and concentrates on the author’s post-college work experience. In its brevity and focus it’s the mirror image of Law School Essay 1. The contrast between the two highlights the diversity that can work in law school essays.
This applicant writes about the impact of his work experience on his law school goals – with no discussion of extracurricular activities, hobbies, or travels. He had a tight word limit on his personal statement and simply had to be concise. Regardless of the narrower focus and shorter length, this essay also shares certain elements with Essay 1 and in both cases it leads to an engaging personal statement and acceptance. Let’s review them:
- Engaging, vivid opening that grabs attention - The applicant plops the reader right into his story and challenge: how to persuade the tired, grouchy doctors that the product he’s selling is better than the one they have been prescribing.
- A detailed story of his developing interest in law and relevant experience - Using just enough details, he tells his story starting with research that led to evidence-based persuasion. He also highlights his success, which led him to be named Rookie of the Year. He then goes on to explain that he now seeks new, more-lasting intellectual challenge than he currently has as a pharmaceutical sales rep because the industry, or at least his segment of it, changes slowly.
- Direction within law - Based on his background in science and his work in Big Pharma, he has direction in law. He clearly states that he wants to go into medical law. Given his background and work experience, that goal builds logically on his past, and is distinctive.
- Ties the essay back to the opening - At the end of his essay, he references “his grumpy physicians” and “staring at his professor…” Sometimes applicants will start an essay with a catchy opening that grabs attention, but has little or nothing to do with the rest of the essay. When reading that kind of essay, the opening feels like a tease or a gimmick. In this essay, the applicant paints a picture of what he faces on a typical workday at the beginning, refers back to the opening scene in his conclusion, and contrasts that experience with what he hopes to face when in law school. It’s not a gimmick. It unifies the story.
This applicant was accepted at several T14 law schools.
Click here to read the essay >>
Law School Sample Essay #3: The Twilight Zone
There is a story behind this law school personal statement. This applicant, a very early Accepted client, during her first meeting said that she wanted to write about a trip to Country X. When asked about the trip, she said, “Oh, I’ve never been to Country X, but I know many people who have visited, and I haven’t done anything interesting.”
Surprised at this unexpected approach, her consultant asked if she had any creative writing experience. The client said she didn’t. The consultant said that she too lacked creative writing experience and suggested they discuss what the client had done as opposed to what she hadn’t. This essay is the result of that (and other) conversations. It is an oldie but goodie.
Let’s take a look at the lessons in this sample law school essay:
- Don’t ever feel you don’t have a story to tell. Every single one of us has a story, and you don’t have to make one up or borrow someone else’s. Tell yours proudly and authentically.
- Launch with a vivid, engaging opening. While her opening is a more frightening than the other openings, it definitely grips the reader’s attention and starts her story.
- Always have a clear theme. Everything in this essay relates to the impact of the earthquake on her and specifically her decision to become a public interest lawyer.
- Tell a story. This personal statement tells the story of the earthquake’s impact on the applicant. In telling her story, she highlights her community service, her internship, and the evolution of her goals.
- Use effective transitions. As she moves from topic to topic, the author effectively carries the reader along. Look at the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next one throughout the essay. You’ll see that in every case, there is either a word, phrase, or concept that ties one to the other.
- Write a conclusion that really brings the essay to a close and contributes to the sense of unity while still looking forward. The applicant repeats her thesis that her career direction was shaped by the earthquake and its aftermath. She touches on key experiences (and achievements) that she wants the reader to remember, looks briefly forward, and ties back to the Twilight Zone opening.
This client was accepted to her top choice law school.
Lessons from Law School Sample Essay #4: Change
This essay takes a different approach than the other three essays. The theme opens the essay followed by images and sounds that make the change she is experienced something the reader can also experience or at least imagine because the applicant uses sensory language. The writer also takes a chronological approach to tell her story of change and how it shaped her.
The author in this essay chooses not to directly address her reasons for wanting to attend law school. However, the essay still works. The essay highlights her communications skills, research, international exposure, bilingual language skills, and initiative.
However here, too, there are lessons to be learned and some may sound familiar.
- Clear theme - Yes, this takeaway is in this essay as well as the preceding three. In fact, for any effective essay, you need a clear theme.
- Effective use of specifics and anecdote - Whether referencing the “bleak Wisconsin winter,” the fact her mother added “barbecued brisket” to her menu in Texas, or the cultural challenges she faced in Bolivia, she effectively illustrates her ability to deal with change and adapt throughout her life.
- A conclusion that shows her evolution and growth - She subtly, but clearly reveals an evolution in her adaptability from complete adoption of the mores of her surroundings in New Jersey to more nuanced adaptability where she chooses what she wants to adopt and reject as she deals with change as an adult. Finally, while change is something she has to deal with throughout most of the essay by the conclusion she views it as an opportunity for growth.
Takeaways from These Law School Statement Samples
- There are an infinite number of ways to write a law school personal statement that will help you get accepted.
- Begin your essay with an opening that grabs your reader’s attention. In today’s age of short attention spans and very busy people, there should be no long, slow warm ups. Put your reader in the scene as soon as they start reading.
- Use sensory language to engage your reader and help them imagine experiencing what you were going through. Reference scenes, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes as appropriate.
- Have a clear theme. Unless you are James Joyce, a stream of consciousness will not work. Know the core idea you want your essay to convey and ruthlessly ensure that every subtopic supports that idea. If it doesn’t, either make the connection clear or delete.
- Use transitions to take your reader with you through your story.
- Use specifics and anecdotes to support your theme in a distinctive way while highlighting your achievements.
- Write a conclusion that contributes to the unity of your essay. Highlight key points in your conclusion. While you can take your theme into the future in your conclusion, it still must relate to your core idea and build on what preceded it. If you can tie your ending back to your opening, your essay will have a stronger sense of coherence.
How would I like to see these essays improved? I would like to see them, with the exception of Essay 2, address why they are applying to a given school. Essay 2 didn’t have room for that.
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Personal Statement Examples - Sample Law School Personal Statements
It requires a lot of effort and thought to write a personal statement that effectively captures your greatest qualities and stands out to admissions committees. While we have an entire article on writing personal statements , one of the best ways to assist and inspire your writing is reading and learning from several personal statement samples. Although writing personal statements requires that you reflect upon what is unique and exemplary about your background, the following personal statement samples will provide insight into how other applicants have successfully crafted their statement. Below you can find 31 personal statement examples found in the TLS Guide to Personal Statements book, which has sections on why these personal statement samples are strong and also how they could have been improved upon. More personal statement samples can be found in the personal statement forum .
See the following articles for more information:
- How To Write An Effective Law School Personal Statement?
- Why Aspiring Law Applicants Must Submit Personal Statements With Law School Applications?
31 Example Personal Statements
- Silicon Valley Start-Up
- Senior Design
- Stay-at-Home Dad
- Happy Camper
- Belorussian Lawyer
- Mormon Conflict
- New York Artist
- PR Agency Builder
- Alice in Casinoland
- Kentucky Governor’s Scholar
- South Dakota
- Magazine Industry
- Russian Grandfather
- Kenyan Immigrant
- Surviving Rape
- Parental Disability
- Resisting the Label “Muslim”
- Muumuus and Moving On
- Hurricane Katrina
- First to Attend College
- High-Stakes Law Experience
- Uganda and Cambodia
- UK Study Abroad
- Delmarva Shorebirds
- Debate Skills
- Korean American
Below are 2 of the 31 Personal Statement Samples
Sample Personal Statement #1 - Silicon Valley Start-Up
Eighteen months ago, I was sitting at my computer, wedged between a dripping coffee maker to my left and the company’s CFO five feet to my right. Every keystroke shook the flimsy foldout card table that served as my desk, on loan to the company from another employee’s garage. We were packed in the largest of three rooms in a 2,500 square foot space baking in the heat generated by ten co-workers in close quarters, fifteen running computers, and an abnormally warm summer. On the glass doorway was etched the ghostly lettering of the former company occupying the space, serving as a grim reminder of the ever-present possibility of failure.
Two weeks earlier, I had been in my company’s small conference room sitting at the table surrounded by familiar faces from my last employer. Silicon Valley is incestuous: teams migrate from one company to the next, so I was not surprised to find myself recruited to join my old boss’s newest project. They were selling another David versus Goliath story, featuring a small rag-tag team of engineers defeating a seemingly insurmountable industry leader. Despite my skepticism, I still had a free-running imagination fed with nostalgic thoughts of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard working on their first audio oscillator in a Palo Alto garage. But at my last start-up company, we had challenged a corporation for a piece of the industry pie, and nine years and $330 million dollars later, the company was a hollow shell doing mostly engineering contractor work. I was lucky enough to join that company late in the game and sell my stock options early, but many others spent a significant portion of their career at a company that came close to glory but ultimately fell short: Goliath 1, David 0.
This time they were telling me it was going to be different; they were always saying this time would be different. I asked them how a small, poorly funded start-up company could go against a giant corporation, which was also the undisputed king of our market, with nearly $400 million in quarterly revenue. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, I was let in on the big secret, the meaning of the “C” in the company name: we were going to use recent innovations in carbon nano-tubes to revolutionize the industry. These nano-scopic cylindrical fibers that allow unparalleled circuit density would be David’s tiny, secret sling.
With the financial incentive of stock options and the confidence gained by working with a crack technical team, everyone was working at full capacity. There were scribbled drawings with names and dates taped up on a wall. These were the jotted ideas from our team of electrical engineers and physicists with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T. One posting was my recent workings of a carbon nano-tube electro-mechanical configuration bit, an idea that a co-worker and I had developed that I would write up and the company would push through the patent process. By packing a dozen well-caffeinated physics and electronics geniuses into a pathetic three-room rental that resembled a low-budget movie studio, we had created the primordial soup of intellectual invention. As a result of our collective ideas, our seasoned team, our innovative ideas, and nano-technology being the latest buzzword in investment, we were soon funded by venture capitalists for $10 million. It was immensely exciting to be the tenth employee in a growing start-up company that would have to upgrade offices and dramatically expand staff in an up-scaling war against the industry titan. The increased design responsibility and unbounded architectural creativity that comes with working for a start-up is unparalleled. However, the necessity of sidestepping our competitor’s patented intellectual property, which covered all aspects of our design, from manufacturing to testing, placed a heavy burden on the design team. This danger was extremely real, as a similar start-up had collapsed following an infringement lawsuit related to unauthorized reproduction of a bit stream. As the designer of three different components, I examined our competition’s sixteen patents related to the memory aspect of the device. It was immensely satisfying to study, absorb, and then circumvent patent claims as I designed a conceptually similar but un-patented version of three memory blocks.
I am interested in serving as general counsel for a corporation focused on advanced semiconductor technology. My diverse work experience and master’s degree provide a perfect foundation to tackle the issues faced by a general counsel. I am drawn to the challenges I will find at the intersection of intellectual property, product liability, and corporate law. At this juncture in my life, I seek more challenge and personal growth in a field that calls on my written skills, attention to detail, and love of technology. My background in nano-technology will bring a unique perspective to the NYU classroom and will make me extremely marketable upon graduation. By pursuing a law degree, I intend to enter a profession that aligns with the interests and aptitudes I have discovered and developed through real work experience. It is through deep personal reflection that I have decided that law is the natural extension of my training, personality, and talents.
Commentary 1: Silicon Valley Start-Up
Structure: Personal Narrative Topic: Internet Start-Up Thesis: I led a multi-million dollar design team; I can succeed in law school. Elements of Style: Comparison to David & Goliath Committee Appeal: Tangible Impact, Real World Experience, Pro-Active Starter, Good Leader Success Rating: A/9
What’s Strong: This is an excellent personal statement because it shows this candidate has had a tangible impact on organizations, and probably on the global economy. The statement keeps the reader engaged by giving a meaningful story with background, context, conflict, and resolution. It also provides a peek into the mysterious and increasingly legendary world of Silicon Valley start-ups. This is a good model for someone who has been out of college for a while, but who hasn’t been working in a law firm. The essay is focused on career goals, with career history to back up the writer’s plans. This person is a doer, not a dreamer. The writer shows a depth of technical knowledge and strong analytic reasoning skills that go far beyond linear thinking, especially in the description of finding new solutions to highly technical problems that do not violate patents. The statement creates desire in the admissions committee to admit this person because other companies seek to hire the applicant and venture capitalists are willing to support the applicant with substantial funds. This statement will inspire members of the admissions committee to act on the applicant’s behalf because he has successfully reached beyond the safety net of college.
This applicant demonstrated his strong written communication skills by writing a compelling statement that uses several kinds of rhetorical appeals. Logic is used to show how his analytical ability helps to keep the company afloat in the same waters where others have foundered. He uses touches of pathos when he describes the “primordial soup of intellectual invention” inside the cramped office. The analogy in which he compares his small start-up and the industry leader to David and Goliath uses both pathos and mythos to excellent effect: The story is one everyone knows, and so just by invoking the names, the writer brings a powerful story into his narrative without using valuable space. This mythic story becomes a theme woven throughout the essay. It is a rhetorical device that establishes a connection in the reader’s mind between this candidate and David, a leader known for his compassionate ethos. This writer has also composed the statement so that he comes across as an authoritative, competent, thoughtful, and honest leader. This statement helped earn the applicant acceptance to NYU and Columbia Law Schools.
What’s Wrong: This essay is too focused on the details of the story and fails to give sufficient evidence for why this person is a good candidate for law school. This essay is structured as a personal narrative, and the topic is the applicant’s professional experience. The first paragraph is well written but is wholly descriptive prose that has very little to do with why this person is a good candidate for law school. The first paragraph lacks a thesis or a direction for the essay. Ideally, the reader should find a microcosm of the essay in the first paragraph.
The second-to-last paragraph packs in the most value to the admissions committee for the space used, but the background story is important for this paragraph to be so powerful. To make the background story do more work for him, the writer could plant more indicators of his positive qualities and characteristics in the early part of the essay. For example, he could mention how he used his oral communication skills to communicate with his design team and supervisors, so that the admissions committee knows he feels that mastery of oral communication skills is important.
The last paragraph is where the applicant draws together his themes with his self-assessment and goals. He should mention what his master’s degree is in. This writer commits the common error of throwing in the name of the school receiving this statement as a token. Any law school program could fill that place. The writer doesn’t appear to have done research about the law program at NYU. Does the applicant feel that being in New York City will put him in contact with East Coast technology specialists who will give him an edge up in his career? Or, is the applicant focusing upon NYU because of their strength in intellectual property law? The writer needs to persuade the NYU admissions committee that NYU is the only school for him, and he can do this by interpreting how the school’s particular strengths will advance his goals. Despite these quibbles, though, this is overall a fantastic personal statement.
Sample Personal Statement 2 - Minimalist
I am a thinker, but not one to think out loud. I love myself, but am not in love with the sound of my own voice. I want to be loved, but not at the cost of not loving myself. I want to know everything, but realize that nothing can ever be known for sure. I believe that nothing is absolute, but I can absolutely defend my beliefs. I understand that chance is prevalent in all aspects of life, but never leave anything important to chance. I am skeptical about everything, but realistic in the face of my skepticism. I base everything on probability, but so does nature...probably.
I believe that all our actions are determined, but feel completely free to do as I choose. I do not believe in anything resembling a God, but would never profess omniscience with regard to such issues. I have faith in nothing, but trust that my family and friends will always be faithful. I feel that religion is among the greatest problems in the world, but also understand that it is perhaps the ultimate solution. I recognize that many people derive their morals from religion, but I insist that religion is not the only fountainhead of morality. I respect the intimate connection between morality and law, but do not believe that either should unquestioningly respect the other.
I want to study the law and become a lawyer, but I do not want to study the law just because I want to become a lawyer. I am aware that the law and economics cannot always be studied in conjunction, but I do not feel that either one can be properly studied without an awareness of the other. I recognize there is more to the law than efficiency, but believe the law should recognize the importance of efficiency more than it does. I love reading about law and philosophy, but not nearly as much as I love having a good conversation about the two. I know that logic makes an argument sound, but also know that passion makes an argument sound logical. I have philosophical beliefs informed by economics and economic beliefs informed by philosophy, but I have lost track of which beliefs came first. I know it was the egg though.
I always think very practically, but do not always like to think about the practical. I have wanted to be a scientist for a while now, but it took me two undergraduate years to figure out that being a scientist does not necessarily entail working in a laboratory. I play the saxophone almost every day, but feel most like an artist when deduction is my instrument. I spent one year at a college where I did not belong and two years taking classes irrelevant for my major, but I have no regrets about my undergraduate experience. I am incredibly passionate about my interests, but cannot imagine being interested in only one passion for an entire lifetime.
I love the Yankees, but do not hate the Red Sox. I love sports, but hate the accompanying anti-intellectual culture. I may read the newspaper starting from the back, but I always make my way to the front eventually. I am liberal on some issues and conservative on others, but reasonable about all of them. I will always be politically active, but will never be a political activist. I think everything through completely, but I am never through thinking about anything.
I can get along with almost anyone, but there are very few people without whom I could not get along. I am giving of my time, but not to the point of forgetting its value. I live for each moment, but not as much as I worry about the next. I consider ambition to be of the utmost importance, but realize that it is useless without the support of hard work. I am a very competitive person, but only when competing with myself. I have a million dreams, but I am more than just a dreamer. I am usually content, but never satisfied.
I am a study in contradiction, but there is not an inconsistency to be found.
Commentary 2: Minimalist
Structure: Personal Narrative Topic: Self-portrait Thesis: I am a clever risk-taker. Elements of Style: Literary play with contradiction and a variety of verbal punning Committee Appeal: Intellectual Excellence, Multiple Perspectives Success Rating: A-/8
What’s Strong: This personal statement is constructed like a poem: there is a rhythm to it that draws the reader in; there is also verbal play and the construction of a somewhat mysterious self-portrait. This applicant had an impressive 4.0 GPA and 178 LSAT, so he could be a risk-taker with the personal statement. This essay stands out because it is more artfully designed than other statements. This is a good strategy if you are sure of your standardized scores or if you are applying to a reach school and so are trying to get yourself noticed. An experimental personal statement such as this is just as likely to succeed as to flop, because some admissions committee members value creativity while others will be put off by the lack of specific details. In its uniqueness, it is unclear how difficult this statement was to write; most admissions committee members will probably give the candidate the benefit of the doubt and see it as highly original rather than a series of clichés.
This statement works by a clever rhetorical trick: The author will repeat a word in the same sentence but shift the meaning to a different, often contrary, usage. For example, the author writes, “I believe that nothing is absolute, but I can absolutely defend my beliefs.” Most of the sentences are linked in a daisy chain of associative ideas. For example, the first paragraph moves through the author’s views on thinking, loving, and doubting. The author then gestures towards interests in philosophy, morality, law, economics, music, sports, and politics. In the third paragraph, the applicant tells us he is good at synthesizing diverse information. The admissions committee will like this ability, as well as the humor that concludes the paragraph with the chicken-and-egg joke. The statement ends with a character sketch indicating the author is friendly but ambitious and complex. And finally, there is an important punch when the piece ends: “I am a study in contradiction, but there is not an inconsistency to be found.” This statement worked for the applicant because this person was accepted everywhere, including Yale and Stanford, and was offered a $63,000 scholarship to NYU.
What’s Wrong: Although this statement is put together like a poem, it lacks the internal logic and consistency that would make it an outstanding example of the personal statement genre. The author starts out very well, linking each sentence to the previous one, but upon close analysis, the chain link falls apart rather quickly. In the first paragraph, talking connects quiet thinking to self-respect, and then love connects self-respect to healthy relationships, but after this, the author enters stream-of-consciousness mode. We learn the author is not religious. He or she writes, “I know that logic makes an argument sound, but also know that passion makes an argument sound logical.” The problem with a sentence like this is that it does not give the reader specific evidence that this person is either logical or passionate. This personal statement encases the author behind a rhetorical wall that does not allow his personality to emerge. We do not have a sense of whether this person is trustworthy because we have no specific stories or examples to evaluate for the author’s ethical appeal.
The fourth paragraph is somewhat damaging to the author when we learn, “I spent one year at a college where I did not belong and two years taking classes irrelevant for my major.” The admissions committee will wonder: Why didn’t you belong at that college? Why did you take random classes for two years? Can you be trusted to maintain your focus in law school? The word play at this point waffles between clever and stale. This statement would do better to begin and end with the verbal play, but to have a solid paragraph or two in the middle of personal narrative, in which the admissions committee really get to know the person behind this rhetorical show.
Closing Remarks on Sample Personal Statements
We hope the free personal statement samples with critique assist you with creating your masterpiece. But for more direction on how to write a personal statement please read our article on Writing Personal Statements and the complete TLS Personal Statement Book . While these resources convey information on personal statements for law school, they can also apply to other graduate programs. For even more free personal statement examples, visit the personal statement forum with over 200 personal statement samples.
Just how important is effectively writing personal statements? So critical that the personal statement is the first item in an application that is read by Ed Tom, the Dean of Admissions at U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. In our exclusive interview , Dean Tom states that “[P]utting together an entering class is like organizing a choir; we want distinct voices. There are hundreds of similar applicants, but only one of you; so take the opportunity provided by the personal statement to let us hear your voice.”
What else did Dean Tom say about how to write a personal statement? “Personal statements for law school are the applicant’s opportunity to distinguish himself from hundreds of other applicants who have the same numbers, and the same major, and come from a similar school. The personal statement is an applicant’s opportunity to describe the distance they’ve come in their lives.” “Most everyone is a very different person now than they were in high school and along that journey they develop a voice that they will be bringing into the classroom. I want to learn about the journey that developed that voice, and to the decision to apply to law school. We are looking for intellectually curious people, and we are looking for people with a diverse array of experiences. So, the ideal personal statement would bring all of that out.”
For editing of your personal statement, you can either swap your statement with someone on the personal statement forum for free or pay to have your statement edited by a professional editing service.
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Tips For Law School Personal Statements: Examples, Resources And More
Updated: Dec 1, 2022, 3:54am
Tens of thousands of undergraduates pursue law school annually, and the competition for admission is fierce.
When it comes to admissions, your law school personal statement is not as impactful as your LSAT scores or undergraduate GPA. Still, a personal statement can be the deciding factor when you are neck and neck with other applicants.
In this article, we discuss how to write a law school personal statement that demonstrates why you belong in a juris doctor (JD) program.
Southern New Hampshire University
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What Is a Law School Personal Statement?
A law school personal statement is a multi-paragraph essay or narrative highlighting the reason you are pursuing a JD degree . This essay is an opportunity to share your identity with an admissions committee—beyond just transcripts and test scores.
Personal statements are typically two to four pages long. Most law schools do not provide specific prompts for applicants’ statements, but some do. Either way, the content of your statement should leave a strong impression.
Why Do Law Schools Ask for Personal Statements?
A personal statement can act as a substitute for the applicant interview process. It also provides a writing sample that shows your ability to communicate ideas effectively. A personal statement can give an admissions committee a clear picture of your motivations for attending law school, indicating how well you might fit into their program.
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer , law school is the first step—and your personal statement is important to the law school application process.
How to Write a Law School Personal Statement
Writing a law school personal statement can be a challenging part of the application process, involving hours of planning and drafting. However, with solid brainstorming and pre-writing strategies, you can craft an effective personal statement that illustrates how you are a strong candidate for law school.
Picking What to Write About
If your prospective school does not provide a prompt, choosing what to write about can be frustrating and time-consuming.
Start with a serious brainstorming session to get your ideas on paper. Give yourself the license to explore every experience or idea before deciding on your final topic.
Consider spending time jotting down every idea that falls into the following categories:
- Life events or experiences that motivated you or changed your perspective
- A meaningful personal achievement and what you learned from it
- How you became interested in the law
- Your passions and how they contributed to your individual goals
Structuring Your Law School Personal Statement
The structure and method you use to craft your statement is important. It might be tempting to follow a rigid formula and write a personal statement that methodically unpacks your reason for attending law school, your qualifications and the relevance of your extracurricular engagements. However, some of the most effective personal statements are crafted through a narrative approach.
Well-written narratives are engaging and illustrate why law school would benefit your career path. Your essay should exhibit your dedication and passion for the law and highlight the relationship between your values and your target law school. By creating a narrative with a common theme woven throughout, you can captivate your reader while also informing them of your qualifications and goals.
Rather than overtly telling the reader why you should be accepted into law school, a narrative allows its audience to make connections and engage at a personal level. Your anecdotes and specific examples should reveal the traits you want the admissions committee to see and appreciate.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Law School Personal Statement?
Law school admissions teams read hundreds of statements, so it’s important to write one that stands out. Ultimately, a good law school personal statement is engaging, unique and descriptive of your personal qualities that would make you a good attorney.
Choose a Unique Topic
A personal statement is exactly that: personal. Crafting a memorable narrative is paramount and dependent on your story and unique life experiences, especially since reviewers read so many personal statements with similar stories and themes.
Unfortunately, certain topics can come across as cliche. This is not to say that your lived experience of overcoming adversity or your time spent volunteering to help those in need is undervalued. However, those narratives have motivated thousands of aspiring attorneys to pursue law—meaning they have appeared in thousands of law school personal statements.
Give Specific Examples
Once you’ve selected a topic, take time to unpack the examples you plan to share and how they tie into the “why” behind your pursuit of law school. General statements are not only boring to read but lack the depth of meaning required to make an impact. Specific examples are critical to creating interest and highlighting the uniqueness of your personal experience.
Be Personal and Reflective
Law schools want to see critical thinking skills and deep reflection in applicants’ personal essays. Before you write, consider a few questions: Is your story unique to you? What was the primary conflict in your story? How did you develop over time? How does this story reflect who you are now and how law school suits you?
Common Pitfalls for a Law School Personal Statement
Before you invest hours writing an essay just for it to fall flat, make sure you’re aware of the most common pitfalls for law school personal statements.
Failing To Follow Instructions
Law schools set specific guidelines on how your personal statement should be formatted and how long it should be. Failing to meet these expectations could result in an automatic rejection.
Length and formatting requirements vary among law schools. For example, if a school expects no more than two pages, 11-point font, 1-inch margins and double spacing, make sure to format your personal statement precisely according to those specifications. We advise tailoring your personal statement to each individual school to avoid violating any formatting requirements.
If a law school asks you to answer a specific prompt or write multiple essays, make sure to follow those instructions as well.
Not Revising And Proofreading
Nothing screams a lack of effort, interest and commitment like an unpolished personal statement. Admissions teams will quickly notice if you skip proofreads and revisions, even if the content of your essay is exceptional.
This step entails much more than running a spelling and grammar check. You must ensure that the order of information is purposeful and logical. Each word you use should be intentional and add value to the story you are trying to tell.
Revising an essay is not a one-person job. Have others provide feedback, too. Your peers and mentors are a great place to start, as long as they give objective feedback.
Also ask people you do not know to provide feedback. You might start with your university’s writing center. Writing centers employ trained writing tutors who are skilled in providing feedback across disciplines. A writing center tutor will not proofread your essay, but they assist in making it reach its full potential.
Using Flowery Or Overly Academic Language
The voice and tone of your personal statement should flow naturally and reflect who you are. This doesn’t require flowery or overly academic language, which can make your essay sound more obtuse and less personal.
As we stated earlier, your personal statement should use specific examples and stories to generate interest and reveal why you want to attend law school and become a lawyer.
Likewise, you should avoid using excessive legal language in your statement. Admissions reviewers are academics, so if you use a term improperly, they will catch it. Use language that you feel comfortable with, and allow your narrative to convey your intended themes and ideas.
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The University of Chicago The Law School
In their own words: admissions essays that worked.
Throughout this issue, countless examples show why we are so proud of the students at the law school. One might think that we get lucky that the students the admissions office chose for their academic accomplishments also turn out to be incredible members of our community, but it’s really all by design. Our students show us a great deal more in their applications than just academics—and we care about a lot more than their numbers. In these pages, meet five of our students in the way we first met them: through the personal statements they wrote for their law school applications. And through their photos, meet a sixth: Andreas Baum, ’12, the talented student photographer who took these pictures for us.
Tammy Wang, ’12
EDUCATION: Johns Hopkins University, BA in International Relations, concentration East Asian Studies, with honors (2007) WORK EXPERIENCE: AsianFanatics.net LAW SCHOOL ACTIVITIES: University of Chicago Law Review, Immigrant Child Advocacy Project Clinic, APALSA, Admissions Committee, Law School Film Festival I fell in love for the first time when I was four. That was the year my mother signed me up for piano lessons. I can still remember touching those bright, ivory keys with reverence, feeling happy and excited that soon I would be playing those tinkling, familiar melodies (which my mother played every day on our boombox) myself. To my rather naïve surprise, however, instead of setting the score for Für Elise on the piano stand before me, my piano teacher handed me a set of Beginner’s Books. I was to read through the Book of Theory, learn to read the basic notes of the treble and bass clefs, and practice, my palm arched as though an imaginary apple were cupped between my fingers, playing one note at a time. After I had mastered the note of “C,” she promised, I could move on to “D.” It took a few years of theory and repetition before I was presented with my very first full-length classical piece: a sonatina by Muzio Clementi. I practiced the new piece daily, diligently following the written directives of the composer. I hit each staccato note crisply and played each crescendo and every decrescendo dutifully. I performed the piece triumphantly for my teacher and lifted my hands with a flourish as I finished. Instead of clapping, however, my teacher gave me a serious look and took both my hands in hers. “Music,” she said sincerely, “is not just technique. It’s not just fingers or memorization. It comes from the heart.” That was how I discovered passion. Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn: the arcs and passages of intricate notes are lines of genius printed on paper, but ultimately, it is the musician who coaxes them to life. They are open to artistic and emotional interpretation, and even eight simple bars can inspire well over a dozen different variations. I poured my happiness and my angst into the keys, loving every minute of it. I pictured things, events, and people (some real, some entirely imagined— but all intensely personal) in my mind as I played, and the feelings and melodies flowed easily: frustration into Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, wistfulness into Chopin’s nocturnes and waltzes, and sheer joy into Schubert. Practice was no longer a chore; it was a privilege and a delight. In high school, I began playing the piano for church services. The music director gave me a binder full of 1-2-3 sheet music, in which melodies are written as numbers instead of as notes on a music staff. To make things a bit more interesting for myself—and for the congregation—I took to experimenting, pairing the written melodies with chords and harmonies of my own creation. I rarely played a song the same way twice; the beauty of improvisation, of songwriting, is that it is as much “feeling” as it is logic and theory. Different occasions and different moods yielded different results: sometimes, “Listen Quietly” was clean and beautiful in its simplicity; other times, it became elaborate and nearly classical in its passages. The basic melody and musical key, however, remained the same, even as the embellishments changed. The foundation of good improvisation and songwriting is simple: understanding the musical key in which a song is played—knowing the scale, the chords, the harmonies, and how well (or unwell) they work together—is essential. Songs can be rewritten and reinterpreted as situation permits, but missteps are obvious because the fundamental laws of music and harmony do not change. Although my formal music education ended when I entered college, the lessons I have learned over the years have remained close and relevant to my life. I have acquired a lifestyle of discipline and internalized the drive for self-improvement. I have gained an appreciation for the complexities and the subtleties of interpretation. I understand the importance of having both a sound foundation and a dedication to constant study. I understand that to possess a passion and personal interest in something, to think for myself, is just as important.
Josh Mahoney, ’13
EDUCATION: University of Northern Iowa, BA in Economics and English, magna cum laude (2009) LAW SCHOOL ACTIVITIES: Student Admissions Committee, flag football, Tony Patiño Fellow The turning point of my college football career came early in my third year. At the end of the second practice of the season, in ninety-five-degree heat, our head coach decided to condition the entire team. Sharp, excruciating pain shot down my legs as he summoned us repeatedly to the line to run wind sprints. I collapsed as I turned the corner on the final sprint. Muscle spasms spread throughout my body, and I briefly passed out. Severely dehydrated, I was rushed to the hospital and quickly given more than three liters of fluids intravenously. As I rested in a hospital recovery room, I realized my collapse on the field symbolized broader frustrations I felt playing college football. I was mentally and physically defeated. In South Dakota I was a dominant football player in high school, but at the Division I level my talent was less conspicuous. In my first three years, I was convinced that obsessively training my body to run faster and be stronger would earn me a starting position. The conditioning drill that afternoon revealed the futility of my approach. I had thrust my energies into becoming a player I could never be. As a result, I lost confidence in my identity. I considered other aspects of my life where my intellect, work ethic, and determination had produced positive results. I chose to study economics and English because processing abstract concepts and ideas in diverse disciplines was intuitively rewarding. Despite the exhaustion of studying late into the night after grueling football practices, I developed an affinity for academia that culminated in two undergraduate research projects in economics. Gathering data, reviewing previous literature, and ultimately offering my own contribution to economic knowledge was exhilarating. Indeed, undergraduate research affirmed my desire to attend law school, where I could more thoroughly satisfy my intellectual curiosity. In English classes, I enjoyed writing critically about literary works while adding my own voice to academic discussions. My efforts generated high marks and praise from professors, but this success made my disappointment with football more pronounced. The challenge of collegiate athletics felt insurmountable. However, I reminded myself that at the Division I level I was able to compete with and against some of the best players in the country.While I might never start a game, the opportunity to discover and test my abilities had initially compelled me to choose a Division I football program. After the hospital visit, my football position coach—sensing my mounting frustrations—offered some advice. Instead of devoting my energies almost exclusively to physical preparation, he said, I should approach college football with the same mental focus I brought to my academic studies. I began to devour scouting reports and to analyze the complex reasoning behind defensive philosophies and schemes. I studied film and discovered ways to anticipate plays from the offense and become a more effective player. Armed with renewed confidence, I finally earned a starting position in the beginning of my fourth year. My team opened the season against Brigham Young University (BYU). I performed well despite the pressures of starting my first game in front of a hostile crowd of 65,000 people. The next day, my head coach announced the grade of every starting player’s efforts in the BYU game at a team meeting: “Mahoney—94 percent.” I had received the highest grade on the team. After three years of A’s in the classroom, I finally earned my first ‘A’ in football. I used mental preparation to maintain my competitive edge for the rest of the season. Through a combination of film study and will power, I led my team and conference in tackles. I became one of the best players in the conference and a leader on a team that reached the semi-finals of the Division I football playoffs. The most rewarding part of the season, though, was what I learned about myself in the process. When I finally stopped struggling to become the player I thought I needed to be, I developed self-awareness and confidence in the person I was. The image of me writhing in pain on the practice field sometimes slips back into my thoughts as I decide where to apply to law school. College football taught me to recognize my weaknesses and look for ways to overcome them. I will enter law school a much stronger person and student because of my experiences on the football field and in the classroom. My decision where to attend law school mirrors my decision where to play college football. I want to study law at the University of Chicago Law School because it provides the best combination of professors, students, and resources in the country. In Division I college football, I succeeded when I took advantage of my opportunities. I hope the University of Chicago will give me an opportunity to succeed again.
Osama Hamdy, '13
EDUCATION: University of California, Berkeley, BA in Legal Studies, AB in Media Studies (2010) LAW SCHOOL ACTIVITES: BLSA, Intramural Basketball I was a shy thirteen-year-old who had already lived in six locations and attended five schools. Having recently moved, I was relieved when I finally began to develop a new group of friends. However, the days following September 11, 2001, were marked with change. People began to stare at me. Many conversations came to a nervous stop when I walked by. However, it wasn’t until one of my peers asked if I was a terrorist that it really hit me. Osama, my name is Osama. I went from having a unique name that served as a conversation starter to having the same name as the most wanted man in America. The stares and the comments were just the beginning. Eventually I received a death threat at school. I remember crying alone in my room, afraid to tell my parents in fear that they might not let me go to school anymore. My experience opened my eyes up to racial and religious dynamics in the United States. I started to see how these dynamics drove people’s actions, even if some were not aware of the reasons. The more I looked at my surroundings with a critical eye, the more I realized that my classmates had not threatened me because of hate, but because of fear and ignorance. This realization was extremely empowering. I knew that mirroring their hostility would only reinforce the fear and prejudice they held. Instead, I reached out to my peers with an open mind and respect. My acceptance of others served as a powerful counter example to many negative stereotypes I had to face.With this approach, I was often able to transform fear into acceptance, and acceptance into appreciation. I chose not to hide my heritage or myself, despite the fear of judgment or violence. As a result, I developed a new sense of self-reliance and self-confidence. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the change that I had brought about in my own life. I wanted to empower others as well. My passion for equality and social justice grew because I was determined to use my skills and viewpoint to unite multiple marginalized communities and help foster understanding and appreciation for our differences and similarities alike. The years following September 11th were a true test of character for me. I learned how to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This allowed me to become a dynamic and outgoing individual. This newfound confidence fueled a passion to become a leader and help uplift multiple minority communities. During the last two summers I made this passion a reality when I took the opportunity to work with underprivileged minority students. All of the students I worked with came from difficult backgrounds and many didn’t feel as though college was an option for them. I learned these students’ goals and aspirations, as well as their obstacles and hardships. I believed in them, and I constantly told them that they would make it. I worked relentlessly to make sure my actions matched my words of encouragement. I went well above the expectations of my job and took the initiative to plan several additional workshops on topics such as public speaking, time management, and confidence building. My extra efforts helped give these students the tools they needed to succeed. One hundred percent of the twenty-one high school juniors I worked with my first summer are now freshmen at four-year universities. I feel great pride in having helped these students achieve this important goal. I know that they will be able to use these tools to continue to succeed. Inspired by my summer experience, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the position of Diversity Outreach Ambassador for the San Francisco Bar Association Diversity Pipeline Program. In this position, I was responsible for helping organize a campus event that brought educational material and a panel of lawyers to UC Berkeley in order to empower and inform minority students about their opportunities in law school. In this position I was able to unite a diverse group of organizations, including the Black Pre-Law Association, the Latino Pre-Law Society, and the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association. Working in this position was instrumental in solidifying my desire to attend law school. The lawyers who volunteered their time had a significant impact on me. I learned that they used their legal education to assist causes and organizations they felt passionate about. One of the lawyers told me that she volunteered her legal services to a Latino advocacy association. Another lawyer explained to me how he donated his legal expertise to advise minority youth on how to overcome legal difficulties. Collaborating with these lawyers gave me a better understanding of how my passion for law could interact with my interest in social justice issues. My experiences leading minority groups taught me that I need to stand out to lead others and myself to success. I need to be proud of my culture and myself. My experiences after September 11th have taught me to defeat the difficulties in life instead of allowing them to defeat me. Now, whether I am hit with a racial slur or I encounter any obstacles in life, I no longer retreat, but I confront it fearlessly and directly. I expect law school will help give me the tools to continue to unite and work with a diverse group of people. I hope to continue to empower and lead minority communities as we strive towards legal and social equality.
Eliza Riffe, '13
EDUCATION: University of Chicago, AB in Anthropology, with honors (2006) WORK EXPERIENCE: Sarbanes-Oxley coordinator and financial analyst, ABM Industries Harper Library, situated at the center of the main quadrangle at the University of Chicago, resembles a converted abbey, with its vaulted ceilings and arched windows. The library was completed in 1912, before Enrico Fermi built the world’s first nuclear reactor, before Milton Friedman devised the permanent income hypothesis, and well before Barack Obama taught Constitutional Law. Generations of scholars have pored over Adam Smith and Karl Marx in the main reading room, penned world-class treatises at the long wooden tables, and worn their coats indoors against the drafts in the spacious Gothic hall. Abiding over all of these scholars, and over me when I was among them, is an inscription under the library’s west window that has served as my guiding intellectual principle: “Read not to believe or contradict, but to weigh and consider.” Per this inscription, which is an abridgement of a passage by Sir Francis Bacon, we readers ought to approach knowledge as a means of enhancing our judgment and not as fodder for proclamations or discord. The generations of scholars poring over Marx, for example, should seek to observe his theories of economic determinism in the world, not immediately begin to foment a riot in the drafty reading room at Harper. The reader may contend, though, that too much weighing and considering could lead to inertia, or worse, to a total lack of conviction. The Harper inscription, however, does not tell its readers to believe in nothing, nor does it instruct them never to contradict a false claim. Instead it prescribes a way to read. The inscription warns us to use knowledge not as a rhetorical weapon, but as a tool for making balanced and informed decisions. On the cruelest days in February during my undergraduate years, when I asked myself why I had not chosen to pursue my studies someplace warmer, I would head to Harper, find a seat from which I would have a clear view of the inscription, and say to myself: “That is why.” On such a day in February, seated at a long Harper table with my coat still buttoned all the way up, I discovered how much I appreciated Carl Schmitt’s clarity and argumentation. I marveled at the way his Concept of the Political progressed incrementally, beginning at the most fundamental, linguistic level. As an anthropology student, I wrongfully assumed that, because Schmitt was often positioned in a neo-conservative tradition, I could not acknowledge him. That day in February, I took the Bacon inscription to heart, modeled its discipline, and was able to transcend that academic tribalism. I added the kernel of The Concept of the Political , Schmitt’s “friend-enemy” dichotomy, to an ever-growing array of images and ideas that I had accumulated, among them Marx’s alienation, C. S. Peirce’s indexicality, and Pierre Bourdieu’s graphical depiction of social space. This patchwork of theories and descriptive models, when weighed and considered, informs my understanding of new ideas I encounter. The academic dons who decided to place the Bacon quote under the western window intended that the idea would transcend the scholastic realm of its readers. Indeed, in my work as a financial analyst for a publicly traded company, it is often a professional touchstone. Though each day in the world of corporate finance is punctuated with deadlines and requests for instantaneous information, I am at my best as an analyst when I consider all of the data thoroughly and weigh the competing agendas. Like emulsified oil and vinegar that separate over time when left undisturbed, the right answer will emerge from among all of the wrong answers when I take the time to consider all of the possibilities. An extra hour spent analyzing an income statement can reveal even more trends than could a cursory glance. Moreover, the more I weigh and consider when I have the opportunity, the more I enhance the judgment I will need to make quick decisions and pronouncements when I do not have time.With inner vision sharpened by years of consideration, I am able to “see into the life of things,” as Wordsworth described in writing of “Tintern Abbey.” Wordsworth’s memory of the abbey provided him much-needed transcendence in moments of loneliness or boredom. The memory of the inscription under the west window at Harper—“Read not to believe or contradict, but to weigh and consider”—has a similar function. For Wordsworth, Tintern alleviated emotional anguish; for me, the Bacon inscription reaffirms a sense of intellectual purpose. The words under the window, their meaning, and the very curvature of the letters in the stone are fixed in my mind and will continue to be as I enter the life of the law. What intrigues me most about legal education is the opportunity to engage simultaneously in the two complementary processes the Harper inscription inspires in me—building a foundation of theories and descriptive models while enhancing my judgment with practice and patience.
Evan Rose, '13
EDUCATION: University of Otago (New Zealand), BA in Philosophy (1999) WORK EXPERIENCE: Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen/Snowmass, Eurospecs Limited (NZ) LAW SCHOOL ACTIVITIES: LSA 1L Representative, BLSA, Student Admissions Committee As I tumble through the air, time seems to slow. I have fallen hard many times before, but even before I hit the ground I can tell this fall is different. I complete one and a half back flips and slam shoulders-first into the slope. As I lie on the hill, the snow jammed into the hood of my jacket begins to melt, and icy water runs down my back. I do not yet know that the impact has broken my neck. I grew up only a short drive from some of New Zealand’s best ski resorts, but my family could never afford ski vacations. My first opportunity to try snowboarding came on a trip with my university flatmate.With expectations shaped purely by the media, I left for the trip assuming snowboarding was a sport for adrenaline junkies, troublemakers, and delinquents. Much to my surprise, I instead found that it provided me with a sense of peace that defied these preconceptions. Anxiety had been a constant companion throughout much of my childhood. I had not always been this way, but years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of my stepfather had taken their toll. My once carefree demeanor had changed, leaving me fearful, panicky, and timid. On a snowboard these feelings faded into the background for the first time in years, and the difference was profound. I never truly realized the pain I had endured until riding gave me the opportunity to escape it. I sought out every possible opportunity to go riding, and through the sport I pushed the limits of both my physical and mental courage. Snowboarding became a vehicle for regaining the confidence and self-worth that had been taken from me through the injustice of abuse. Even as I began to ride competitively in boardercross racing and halfpipe, launching myself into the air over sixty-foot jumps, the sense of peace I gained during my first day on a snowboard stayed with me. It did, at least, until that April afternoon. As I lay in a hospital bed a few hours after my accident, an overwhelming sense of fear replaced any confidence that snowboarding had instilled in me. I faced the prospect of a lengthy and complicated surgery, with no certainty about the outcome. I knew my shattered vertebrae could easily leave me paralyzed. I was lucky to be alive, but any sense of luck eluded me as pain sent me in and out of consciousness. Two days later, surgeons worked for seven hours to rebuild my neck. I awoke to learn that I had escaped any serious nerve damage. However, I would need to be immobilized by a brace twenty-four hours a day, and for over three months, before I could even contemplate rehabilitation. Those months passed slowly. When I was finally able to start the process of rehabilitation, I made recovery my full-time job. I quickly learned that pain was to become the central reality of that year. The first day I could walk to my mailbox marked a significant achievement. Determined to return to full health, and even hoping to eventually return to riding, I gritted my teeth through the daily therapy sessions. At each subsequent visit, my doctor expressed his surprise at the progress of my recovery. Only twelve months after my injury, he cleared me to make a few careful runs on an easy, groomed slope. While I made it through those first few runs safely, they left me shaking with fear. Since then, I have again found joy in riding, but no amount of determination will allow me to ride the way I had before. I won’t be attempting double back flips again any time soon. Rather than focusing on my own riding, I now direct my energy into coaching. My experiences showed me the transformative power of courage and self-confidence, and taught me to build these qualities in others. At the Aspen Skiing Company, I develop and implement teaching curricula for more than two hundred snowboard instructors. My goal is for my fellow coaches to recognize that snowboarding can offer much more than just a diversion. It has the potential to have a profound and inspiring impact on their students’ lives. In the ample time my recovery allowed for reflection, I found solace in the fact that the abuse in my childhood fostered in me not bitterness, but an enduring dedication to fairness and justice. As a college student, this dedication led me to seek out classes in ethics and morality. As a manager and leader, I strive to display both courage and enduring fairness. My interest in the legal profession stems from my belief that laws represent the concrete expressions of justice and fairness in our society. After discovering the salvation it held for me, I believed that I was reliant on snowboarding. Yet, being forced to face the grueling process of rehabilitation without it allowed me to take the final step to recovery from the trauma of my childhood. I realized I am much stronger and more resilient than I had previously believed. I realized that courage is not something that snowboarding gave me but something that has always been within me. These realizations have prepared me to broaden the scope of my dedication to justice. Secure in the knowledge that the courage and determination I have shown will help shape my future success, I am now ready to take on this new challenge: the study and practice of law.
The law is important because it serves as a norm of conduct for citizens and residents. It acts as a guideline for acceptable behavior, and ensures equality within communities and social groups by an outline for the consequences of law viol...
P&G School Programs offers materials for educators and students at PGSchoolPrograms.com. Teachers can request deodorant samples for students in with the puberty kits, which are gender-based.
Much of science is about discovering the hidden laws that guide the universe. At some point a biologist sought to understand how trees eat light, and a chemist wondered how salt affects the temperature of boiling water.
I haven't always been a “straight-A” student, and I am not the greatest test taker, but that has never deterred me. I'm a creative problem solver, a hard worker
Most law schools ask for a 2-page personal statement, but lengths can range from 2-4 pages. Georgetown, for instance, recommends a 2-page
The right law school for me will continue to further my purpose in my life, and I hope this will cause a domino effect in the lives of others. The events that
Five years and numerous emergencies later, I've learned how to work: work under pressure, work when I'm tired, and work when I no longer want to
A quality personal statement—a short essay in which you articulate who you are and why you want to go to law school—allows an admissions officer
Experts warn that law school personal statements should not be vague, melodramatic and repetitive. The essay should not merely describe a person
A law school personal statement tells the part of your story that reveals your motivation for attending law school and the reasons you will make a great lawyer
By pursuing a law degree, I intend to enter a profession that aligns with the interests and aptitudes I have discovered and developed through real work
A boring, flat essay can be the kiss of death. There are three different essays to consider when applying to law school. Personal statement. Diversity statement.
A law school personal statement is a multi-paragraph essay or narrative highlighting the reason you are pursuing a JD degree. This essay is an
Throughout this issue, countless examples show why we are so proud ... the personal statements they wrote for their law school applications.