Applying to Law School: Personal Statements and Letters of Recommendation

Below are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the law school application process. You can find Part 1 here. If you have questions you’d like answered in future FAQ, you can submit them to info@admitadvantage.com

Questions about the essays:

Most law school applications ask you to write three essays: a Personal Statement, a Diversity Statement, and an Addendum/additional Information. 

I haven’t done anything exciting or unique, so what should I write my personal statement about?

How sure are you that you’ve done nothing unique? What if your definition of exciting is different from a law school’s definition? If you’re looking to work with a consultant, this is kind of the ballgame, digging deep into your background with someone who can shed light on ways in which you have tons of potential differentiating features, and how best to bring those forward. But, more generally, and this might sting: if you have truly not done anything exciting or unique, why do you think you should be admitted to a law school? If you were on the deciding side of the equation, wouldn’t you reject yourself? If that’s truly the case, then maybe law school isn’t in the cards for you, and that’s okay. But definitely solicit the opinion of an expert before you trash your plans! Why? Because 9 out of 10 times, we find that EVERYONE has something about them, or has done something that more than qualifies as unique, and exciting, precisely in the way a law school values. Just need to understand what those things are.

One place to start: moments of growth. Are you the same exact person in terms of thoughts and maturity and aspirations as you were one year ago? Five years ago? Right there, the answer is almost always certain to be no. Identify the ways in which you’ve grown. What was the ‘starting point’ and where are you now? What’s the difference between the two? Track the progress. Explain it. There may be something there.

Another source: what gets you fired up? Whether in a positive or negative way? What makes you angry? Elated? Enthusiastic? Hopeful? Dreary? Enraged? Identify a few things in life (big or small, professional or personal) and analyze it. Sometimes you’ll find that there’s a connection between things that elicit a truly visceral response and animating forces that end up defining career choices. This is all part of the introspective journey that all successful law school applicants go through. For some it happens almost instantly, and for others it requires painstaking, stage-based stepping through. Who cares which camp you belong to, as long as you end up having divined the right insights, no?

Skipping ahead, to those who come out the other side, having figured something out: Aim for no more than 750 words. If you’re struggling to keep your draft under 1,000 words, you’re either trying to cover too much, or you’re saying it all inefficiently. Remember, law school admissions committees are reviewing thousands of applications, so you want to keep your personal statement pithy and punchy. And furthermore, your competition is 100% able to SLAY it in under 750 words. That’s the bar. So, get there.

Does my personal statement need to address why I want to go to that specific law school?

Not really. Most attempts at this come off disingenuous, thinly-argued, obsequeious. Highly-ranked law schools like Harvard and Yale know why you (and everyone else) wants to go there, so unless you have a killer angle, don’t waste space. A killer argument would be something that might strike a school as surprising somehow––suppose you have the grades and experience for a Harvard or Yale but you’re making an argument for why you prefer a ‘lesser name school’ that might resonate if argued well. Or you’re able to articulate how specific features of a program connect very specifically with things you need, that other programs are lacking in, then you might be able to make some headway. But it’s tricky terrain. Be sure you’re making as effective a point as you hope to be making. You’ll also want to avoid referring to a specific professor (the way you might for a Master’s or PhD programs), since they might move schools.

That said, if a school gives you the opportunity to write a separate statement on why you want to attend that school, take advantage of it, and mount an emotionally-resonant, sharply-argued case. The more space you have to convince them that you’d be a great fit, the better. But you have to execute it perfectly.

Should I write a diversity statement?

If you’re wondering whether you “qualify” to write a diversity statement, it will depend on each school’s specific prompt. Some schools’ prompts are broad. For instance, Boston University’s prompt says, “This essay is your opportunity to discuss any aspect of your background or life experience that you believe will enhance your ability to contribute to the diverse BU classroom experience and community.”

In contrast, other schools’ prompts are narrow. For example, NYU Law’s prompt states, “New York University School of Law seeks to enroll a student body from a broad spectrum of society, including members of groups underrepresented in the profession as well as persons who have experienced socioeconomic and/or educational disadvantage. Please indicate [in this statement] any such groups in which you would include yourself.”

The admissions consultants at Admit Advantage can help you navigate each school’s prompt to figure out whether or not you can and should submit a diversity statement.

Should I write an addendum about my low grades and/or LSAT score?

It depends on your specific situation. Did something happen the day of the LSAT? Were you facing personal challenges your freshman year? Do you have a learning disability?

Many applicants write addenda that are unnecessary, too long, or even damaging. The admissions consultants at Admit Advantage can help you figure out whether to write an addendum, and if so, what to say or leave out.

Questions about Letters of Recommendation:

How do I decide which professors to ask for letters of recommendation? And how do I ask them?

Many applicants make the mistake of thinking that they can or should ask any professor who has given them an A, or professors with the biggest names. Wrong. Here’s a better way to approach it: Did you improve in a particular area over the course of the class? Did the professor get to know you well through office hours, or other interaction? Focus more on professors with whom you have a strong relationship with than professors who gave you an A. An impassioned recommendation letter can say a thousand times more than one that comes from a big-name professor, or someone who gave you top marks, but writes a milquetoast letter.

In terms of soliciting a letter of recommendation, a well-crafted email is usually a decent option, depending on your relationship. The email should include which class you took with them and when, why you enjoyed their class, and why you think they might be able to write you a strong LOR. You should close by offering to meet if they’d like to discuss it further.

There are two exceptions to asking via email. First, if you know from experience that they never answer emails, avoid it. In that case, you should go to their office hours. Second, make sure to check their syllabus to see if they have a unique procedure that they want students to follow in requesting letters of recommendation. Since professors love when you read the syllabus, that can only help your chances that they’ll say yes, or worse, ding you if you failed to follow their preferred procedure!

I’ve been out of school for a while – do I still need a letter of recommendation from a professor?

If you’re about to graduate or have recently graduated, and you know you’re planning to take a few years off before law school, ask your professors now if they’d be willing to write a recommendation, while they still remember you clearly. Even professors who truly enjoyed having you in their class may have fuzzy recollections if they’ve had hundreds of students between the time you were in their class and when you apply to law school.

If you’ve already been out of school for several years, it’s a little trickier. You’ll need at least one letter of recommendation from a professor, since performance in undergrad classes can be a strong predictor for performance in the law school environment. Unfortunately, you may have to just reach out to a few of your old professors, remind them which class you took and when, and hope for the best. Very possible, happens all the time. All the more reason (for those who are reading this early in the process) to develop those relationships as much as possible, in order to increase your options down the road, irrespective of when you decide ultimately to apply.