How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement for Law
Published: 20/11/17 Author: Oliver Jackson
Personal statements are horrible. They’re the most cringe-worthy pieces of writing you are ever likely to come across. Thankfully, they are also comparatively simple to get right if you know what you’re doing.
Show, Don’t Tell
The most important advice anyone can give when writing a personal statement for law. I cannot repeat this enough. Show, don’t tell. Nobody is interested in reading for the four hundredth time, “I am an engaged and enthusiastic law student, passionate to work for the cause of justice”.
Great. Absolutely anyone could have written that line – it says nothing about you personally. Ironically, in trying to come across as personal, you do the exact opposite and come across as an identikit robot. Which you’re (probably) not.
Instead of telling your reader how engaged and enthusiastic you are, show how engaged and enthusiastic you are! “For the past year, I have spent one day every fortnight volunteering at my local Citizens Advice. I also write a blog simplifying the biggest cases of the day for school students” is so much better.
Of course, you probably don’t write a blog or volunteer at your local CA. If not, why not? Go and find out about the law in action! See The Ultimate Guide to Pro Bono Work Experience to find opportunities near you, or even write for The Lawyer Portal.
If it’s too late to do these things, and your personal statement is due in 12 hours’ time, then you need to rack your brains to remember what it is you have done with regards to the law. That essay you wrote last month – what did you research? What did you think about it? What would you like to find out in the future? That moot you took part in 3 years ago – what area of law was it on? What did you learn? Purely by virtue of being a law student you will have done so many interesting things as part of your studies. Write about them, and your enthusiasm will show!
Structure Your Material
So you’ve got an idea of all the material you’ll be using. Now you need to structure it. The first sentence should be catchy and is also the one part of the statement that can be vague. Lead your reader in, potentially with a personal anecdote: “Legal practice is not simply another career, but an intellectual philosophy. I first realised this when……” (obviously, don’t use that, but you get the idea).
From there your statement should proceed simply and logically from one section to the next. Think about how you’re going to lay it out. A standard structure involves a very short and snappy introduction, one in-depth section on your (hopefully extensive) legal experience and inspiration, a second on your analytical and academic achievements, and a quick paragraph on your extra-curricular activities.
Show Off How Smart You Are, But be Subtle About it
This is a particularly difficult part – mentioning your excellent academics without coming across as arrogant or self-entitled. One tactic would be to focus on a specific project/piece of research you did, explain what you learned from that research, then say how you applied that learning to your wider degree and were “fortunate enough” to receive strong grades as a result. Again, show, don’t tell. Demonstrate that your writing is of the analytical standard your reader is looking for. If your academics are superb, but your statement is loose and full of typos, you’re probably not going to succeed.
Keep it Short
Lawyers love brevity. If you can cut a word, cut it out. If you can use a short word where a long one will do, use it. Lengthy elaborate sentences flowing through divergent sub-clauses, each decorated with pearly rhetoric flair, are all very well on the Man Booker Prize shortlist but have no place in legal drafting. They also have no place in your personal statement. As a rule of thumb any sentence with more than two commas, or one that spills over more than three lines on the page, is too long.
Follow these tips and your writing will improve no end. That and your personal statement for law will read like the impressive piece of writing it is, rather than a nauseating flail in the dark. Good luck!