The Law School Diversity Statement Explained
“Diversity” is a nebulous concept and can be confusing to many students. Still, a focus on diversity has indeed transformed law student demographics, which have historically been overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white (over 90% of incoming law students were male and white until 1970).
What’s more, law schools have historically been places in which men went to follow in their father’s (or grandfather’s) footsteps, which means that law students were more likely to be from upper-middle-class or wealthy families. More recently, though, non-male students make up nearly 50% of incoming classes, and law school classes entering in the last couple of years are among some of the most racially diverse on record.
More than ever, law students are also looking to attract, mentor and retain students who are the first in their families to go to professional school. With incoming classes looking more and more heterogeneous, what does “diversity” mean today, and what does it mean for students crafting their applications today?
Non-Traditional Diversity in a Law School
Much of the discussion of diversity tends to focus on the macro level—how many female J.D. candidates are there? How many students of color? How many students are non-binary? This can be daunting for an individual student to think about in their own story. Statistical information can be flat and lifeless. Many students feel undue pressure to lean into their minority status in a way that can feel equally flat and lifeless on the page, leading them to focus on “checking boxes” rather than telling their own story.
Alternatively, an overfocus on rigid notions of diversity may mean that some students miss opportunities to demonstrate how they may be non-traditional. Being an older student, a low-income student, a first-generation professional, a student with a family, a student who has overcome learning disabilities or other disabilities, or even a student with a veteran status are all reasons to think about and submit a diversity statement.
How to Write a Diversity Statement For Law School
An effective diversity statement does not focus on listing traits or life experiences that allow an applicant to check boxes. Instead, it lets an admissions committee into aspects of the applicant’s identity that have shaped them. Importantly, it is written with a focus on demonstrating how an applicant’s identity or life experiences will translate into their engagement in the classroom. Some example questions an applicant may ask themselves would be:
- Has a disability empowered me to advocate for myself in a way that will help me ultimately advocate for others?
- Does my immigration status inform my politics in a way that will shape my career path?
- Has the experience of being an Other—in whatever way that might be—made me a more empathetic and curious person?
Law schools want to know not what boxes an applicant can check (otherwise they would issue a multiple-choice form), but how those experiences have shaped the kind of student and ultimately the kind of professional they will be.
An effective diversity statement has these three traits:
It is narrowly tailored
Rather than being framed in terms of checking boxes, a high-quality diversity statement highlights one or two important aspects of an applicant’s identity that have been significant in shaping who the applicant is and informing where they want to go. This requires real introspection and imagination.
It is specific
An effective diversity statement describes one or two moments or experiences demonstrating how and why one’s identity matters. These descriptions should be rich in detail and should paint a vivid picture for the admissions committee.
It is forward-looking
Some of the country’s most effective advocates are motivated by specific experiences of adversity or injustice. It may be appropriate to highlight such experiences in a diversity statement. Still, the diversity statement should not dwell on the past but should give the admissions committee a sense of how that experience motivates an applicant and how it will shape their professional lives.
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