Most schools require a one or two-page personal statement. This should be viewed as an opportunity to present yourself in a way that is not reflected in your transcript or resume. It is a substitute in many ways for the personal interview, so let your personality emerge from the page. Do not restate the obvious or rehash material that the admissions committee will already have before them. Tell the schools what you can offer them that no one else can. Accentuate experiences, traits, abilities and passions that set you apart. Be specific. Develop a narrative that will be engaging and worth the committee’s time to read. Don’t be too cute or unconventional. The personal statement is also your chance to explain anything on your record that may appear negative. In all cases, be sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are correct. Sample personal statements are available.
Some commercial publications offer useful samples of personal statements too. Remember, however, that you are writing your own personal statement that should reflect your own style. Don’t rely on gimmicks or on someone else’s style.
File your application in a timely manner. You should plan to have your applications completed and sent well in advance of the application deadlines. We recommend having them in the mail by Thanksgiving if you plan to be admitted for the following September. This will maximize your chances of acceptance, especially to schools with rolling admissions. As admissions committees begin to fill the available positions in a class, your odds of acceptance get longer with each new admittance before your application arrives.
You are responsible for making certain that your letters of recommendation are sent in a timely fashion. Some applicants discover that even though they have filed their applications early, their files are delayed in the review process because the required letters of recommendation have not been received. This can seriously diminish their chances of acceptance, especially if they are already borderline.
You may wish to mail your applications “return receipt requested” to alleviate anxiety about timely receipt of your applications and to provide proof of filing. You may want to do the same when you mail in your seat deposit after acceptance.
Most law schools require one or two letters of recommendation with your application, and even those that don’t will consider them with your application. Choosing your recommends is consequential in that it does affect your admission chances. Some schools specify that they prefer or require faculty recommendations, and do not consider a file until the faculty letters arrive. A strong faculty letter demonstrates an awareness of the student’s academic potential, and is not just a citation of a particular grade that a student earned in a particular class. The wise applicant will make every effort to get to know their professors, and not just to enhance their law school applications with a strong letter. A good mentor-student relationship can enrich your undergraduate education immeasurably and sustain your intellectual life far beyond your college and law school years. A student who pursues special projects and demonstrates true intellectual curiosity and initiative is certainly the kind of student that any good law school covets. A great letter of recommendation is simply a happy by-product of a student’s hard work.
The importance of faculty letters is not so significant for applicants who have been out of school for several years. Letters from employers, co-workers, or others in a position to evaluate your ability or character are appropriate. If you have maintained contact with one or more of your professors, you may of course provide a letter from him or her. If the school requires a faculty letter, you should try to comply even if you have been out of school for some time. You can include letters that amplify your time out of school. Students who are planning to apply to law school within a year or two after graduation from college may want to have letters from professors placed in their files before they graduate. The prelaw advisor has forms for students to use in such cases.
Try to choose recommenders who can be specific and who can write you the strongest possible letters. You can tactfully ask a recommender if they feel they know you and/or your work well enough to write you a strong letter. If a recommender seems reluctant to write a letter, find someone else. A lukewarm or negative letter will obviously damage your chances of acceptance. If a recommender is willing, be sure they are able to write you a good letter. Someone who is able to compare you with other students who have attended a law school to which you are applying can be particularly persuasive. Dealing with facts relevant to law school is appreciated by the law schools, as is honesty. A letter that recognizes a candidate’s weaknesses, but is nonetheless laudatory can be of great help to an admissions committee. You can insure stronger letters by choosing your recommenders with care; then provide them with writing samples, a resume, and your personal statement. All will help them to know you better as a student and as a person.
The rule of thumb in selecting a recommender is to look for the quality of letter rather than the prestige of the author. You may be acquainted with a senator or a judge who is willing to write you a letter even though he/she does not know you well. Such letters are generally a waste of the writer’s and the admission committee’s time since they tend to be so general as to be meaningless. It is preferable to get a letter from someone unrelated to the legal profession who can tell the committee more about you than they can glean from your application or personal statement.
The LSDAS now offers a convenient Letter of Recommendation Service for no extra charge. You will be asked whether you are willing to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation. Some argue that doing so will increase the credibility of the letters you receive. Certainly a glowing letter has more force if an admissions committee knows that the applicant has not and probably will not ever see it.
Plan ahead when asking for letters of recommendation. Give your recommenders adequate time to prepare your letters. You should ask your recommenders a few weeks before you give them the forms if they are willing to write you a letter. Then make sure you give them at least three weeks to complete and mail the letters after you have given them the material. Asking a recommender on Monday to “write a letter and send it by Friday” demonstrates a wanton disregard for his or her other duties and responsibilities. Certainly it does not provoke your writer to speak well of your maturity and responsibility, or to applaud your organizational skills. The result may be a less positive letter than you might otherwise have received.
You will get a better response from recommenders if you follow a fairly simple protocol. Include stamped, addressed envelopes for every form or letter to be sent to the LSDAS Recommendation Service or directly to the schools. Make sure all waiver forms are signed, and that any part of the form that you are responsible for filling in is completed before you give them to your recommender. A recommender should never have to look up your social security number or wonder whether you forgot to sign a waiver or intentionally omitted your signature. Their only task should be to write the letter, stuff it into a prepared envelope and mail it by a specified date.