Where can I find successful law school application essays?

Most lawyers do a lot of writing, so it's fitting that law schools require essays from their applicants.
Most lawyers do a lot of writing, so it's fitting that law schools require essays from their applicants.
Dougal Waters/Getty Images

You've taken the LSAT. You've sent off your college transcripts. You've filled out the required forms. You're almost done with the law school application process -- but not yet.

Now it's time to think about that other important part of your law school application: your essay. You've heard that the personal statement (as these essays are sometimes known) can make a difference, especially if your grades and test scores aren't at the top of the pack of applicants to your school of choice.

Most law schools use an index as part of the admissions process. They combine applicants' LSAT scores and grades, weighting them according to their believed importance. The lucky few at the very top of the index are likely to be automatically in; those at the very bottom are likely to be automatically out. But for the masses in the middle -- and even, sometimes, for someone near the bottom -- the personal statement can be what opens the door [source: Owens]

Some law schools give all applicants a prompt for the essay. The admissions staff at those schools believes that if everyone has to write about the same thing, it will be easier to make comparisons. However, an increasing number of schools won't tell applicants what to write about. Their thinking is that leaving the subject open will produce creative essays that reveal more about their authors.

The latter approach puts more pressure on the applicant to think of a good subject and an angle. What to do? Search for information about law school application essays on the Internet and you'll be bombarded with a bewildering flood of information and commercial offers. Can you believe what you read? You really want to be accepted to law school. Is it worth the money to pay for sample essays, or to pay someone to help you write yours?

Read on for some insight.

Law School Application Essay Examples

It can be worthwhile to read examples of essays that have helped applicants win admission to law school. Seeing successful essays might give you a sense of what admissions committees are looking for. Reading what others have written might inspire you to think of an approach that will work for you. Knowing what has worked for other people might give you confidence -- and confidence makes for a better essay. But don't expect to find something that you can adapt a little and submit as your own.

Few law schools offer essay examples. That's because admissions officers want an applicant to write from his or her own experience rather than imitate what someone else has written. Melanie Nutt, the director of admissions for the Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston-Salem, N.C., said she wishes applicants would stay away from blogs and books that offer essay advice and examples. Even worse, she said, are services that will "help" someone write an essay, for a fee. "I want applicants to write about something that they care about and have some passion for. Hopefully, by the time somebody is ready for graduate school, he [or she] might have an original thought," she said.

Examples abound for those who want them, however. An Internet search will take you to free sites such as top-law-schools.com that post and critique essays.

A number of books include essay examples and writing tips. They're likely available at your local library and on sale at bookstores for under $20. These books often include writing advice that most college-educated people already know, such as:

  • Don't be vague.
  • Use active rather than passive voice.
  • Be accurate in spelling and grammar.
  • Have a good beginning and ending that will interest the reader.

Many include comments from admissions officers at leading law schools (often, the same people appear in several books). And then there are the examples of essays by people who won admission to their law school of choice.

What does make a good essay? Read on for some enlightenment.

Law School Essay Dos and Don'ts

If you want to write a successful law school essay, you should draw from your own life experiences. Don't rely on complex legal jargon.
If you want to write a successful law school essay, you should draw from your own life experiences. Don't rely on complex legal jargon.
Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

If the school asks for specific information -- why you want to be a lawyer, or what you see as your strengths -- you, of course, should follow instructions.

Some schools require an open-ended essay and allow an optional essay on some topic such as how you would contribute to increased diversity in the incoming class.

When it comes to writing an open-ended essay:

Do:

  • Write what you would want to tell the admissions officers if you met them.
  • Focus on something you care passionately about.
  • Make yourself come alive as a person.
  • Write about something that's unusual or compelling in your life.
  • Draw on your professional and life experience. If you've been out of school for a while or are a single parent, use that insight.
  • Write something that will make yourself stand out in the committee's minds.
  • Relate the story you're telling about yourself to your passion for the lawi
  • Be sincere and honest. Tell the truth, not what you think they want to hear.

Don't:

  • Use the essay to explain bad grades or low LSAT scores. Use an addendum for explanations.
  • Rehash your awards and activities. The committee will know that information from your application forms and/or resume.
  • Talk about how you've wanted to be a lawyer since you were a child. The committee has read that 1,000 times.
  • Rely on gimmicks. That clever poem or joke will probably fall flat.
  • Write about everything that's ever happened to you. Focus on one or two life-shaping experiences.
  • Go on too long. The committee does a lot of reading. Two to 2 1/2 double-spaced pages are probably plenty.

Your goal should be to help the people who will be making the decision know you and understand why you want to attend law school.

Melanie Nutt, the Wake Forest University School of Law admissions director, said that one of the most memorable essays she's read lately was from a young man who said his mother was his hero -- and his inspiration to be a lawyer -- because she left an abusive relationship and raised him as a single parent. Another was by a young woman whose father is a mechanic. She wrote about "life lessons learned under the hood of a car."

What most of this advice boils down to is this: The best place to find a successful law school application essay is within your own life story.

Once you're written your story, that's the time to get help. Show it to a professor, counselor or editor for a helpful critique.

Need a bit more help with your law school applications? Take a look at the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Accepted.com. "Law School Admissions."         http://www.accepted.com/law/ (Feb. 27, 2010)
  • "Admission Essay and Personal Statement Development Services." http://www.admissionsessays.com/ (Feb. 27, 2010)
  • Bodine, Paul. "Perfect Phrases for Law School Acceptance." McGraw Hill, New York, 2009.
  • Kaufman, Daniel; Chris Dowhan and Amy Burnham. "Essays That Will Get You Into Law School. Barron's Educational Services, Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y., 1998.
  • Law School Admission Council. "Additional Admission Decision Factors." http://www.lsac.org/Applying/additional-decision-factors.asp (Feb. 16, 2010)
  • Law School Discussion. "EssayEdge Admissions Essay Guide." http://www.lawschooldiscussion.org/essayedge.htm (Feb. 27, 2010)
  • Nutt, Melanie. Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Wake Forest University School of Law, Winston-Salem, N.C. Personal interview, Feb. 26, 2010.
  • Owens, Eric and the staff of "The Princeton Review." "Law School Essays That Made a Difference." Random House, New York, 2008.
  • Princeton Review. "Tips for Your Personal Statement." http://www.princetonreview.com/law/personal-statement.aspx (Feb. 16, 2010)
  • Stewart, Mark Alan. "Peterson's How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement." Peterson's, Lawrenceville, N.J., 2009.
  • Top-Law-Schools.com. "Law School Personal Statements Advice."http://www.top-law-schools.com/statement/html (Feb. 16, 2010)