Law School Personal Statement Advice

Law School Expert Blog

Your law school personal statement is your chance to be more than just your numbers, more than your transcripts. This is the substitute for meeting you face to face, this is your opportunity to share your best self, best experiences, best stories. It’s your chance to be impressive. Feeling the pressure? You’re not alone. The most open ended part of your law school application presents the most questions:

What do law schools want to know? What are they looking for? Do I need to be clever? Creative? Dramatic? Intellectual? I haven’t overcome paralysis, created peace in the Middle East, or been homeless. What about my (boring) life would help me strengthen my chance of getting into law school?

Deciding what to write about in your law school personal statement can be stressful and overwhelming. Then, once you decide what to say, you have to decide how to say it.

I just did two little videos this morning to help you get started. The first one has basic tips to help you generate topic ideas. The second one has a list of what should avoid writing about – some common law school personal statement traps.

Personal Statement Tips

What NOT to Write About in Your Law School Personal Statement

48 Responses

  1. Hi Ann, I was dismissed from law school 7 years ago. Should I include my experience of dismissal from law school in my personal statement? I feel like I’ve grown since then.

    1. Suk, you’re going to have to have an addendum about this; you don’t need to mention it in your personal statement.

  2. Hi Ann,

    Thanks so much for all this advice. I’m a student applying to a few US Law Schools from Australia and am completely new to this whole personal statement idea and the thought of writing about myself seems daunting. The examples I’ve read people share such personal details like over coming rape or escaping war torn countries, I’m just not sure I could do something like that.
    I have a few stories I could focus on, but I’m not sure which is the right direction, if any of them, I was wondering if you could give me some advice? My options I think thus far are;
    1 – dealing with an alcoholic and suicidal father growing up
    2 – living and volunteering as a teacher in Ghana for 6 months after high school and independent travel
    3 – What led me to want to study law which was seeing friends in the music industry getting cheated by record companies (I want to major in Entertainment Law)
    or 4 – Which I guess would be to focus on the fact that I’d be a different choice as a student because I’m from Australia?
    Any advice you have to offer would be greatly appreciated!
    Thank you.

    1. Sam, each of these would make a great personal statement – anything that can be covered in your resume should stay there and leave your personal statement available to share other parts of your background. Unless you have experience in entertainment law, I’d probably stay away from that. Schools will want to know why you want to come to the U.S. for law school – what good will it do you back home? That’s something that will be important to cover.

  3. Dear Ann,

    Thank you so much for all of this amazing advice and insight! I recently submitted my law school applications. Although I proofread it multiple times before sending, I just realized I accidentally started two sentence in the same paragraph with the same few words. Is this enough of an issue to send a revision?

    Hoping I’m just over thinking this…

    1. Dear Overthinking,
      Yes, you are over thinking. No one is going to “ding” you over this. These things happen…. Won’t keep you from getting into law schools if everything else is strong. Happy Halloween!

  4. Dear Ann,

    I am stuck on writing a personal statement that will exemplify my passion in environmental issues and women’s rights. I have a lot of experiences that have impacted me in ways to pursue law for women’s rights. However, I do have a bachelors degree in biology and have always been interested environmental issues that are exemplified in my resume. With limited space to make a cohesive personal statement, should I just focus on one theme or a mix of the two. I feel like I need to convince to the admissions people how my background in biology has changed to pursuing law.

    My women’s rights theme and my experiences:
    -growing up in a domestic violence household
    -being sexually harassed while backpacking abroad
    -and being sexually discriminated in the work force

    My environmental experiences:
    -A couple of organizations that I have volunteered,etc: Surfrider, LA waterkeeper, and oc coastkeeper
    -international experience volunteering in garden keeping
    -and my passion for being outdoors in nature;activities like hiking and surfing

    For me, the women theme has impacted me alot more than the environmental theme. But I want to be considered for environmental programs within particular law schools. What do you think?

    1. Jessica,
      I think you could cover everything about the environment in your resume, but nothing about women’s rights could go on your resume. So you and I are in complete agreement with respect to your personal statement topic.

  5. Hi Ann,

    I just downloaded your book to my Kindle and read the entire thing in an afternoon and it was great (5-star review on Amazon soon to follow).

    I am preparing to write my personal statement and debating about including a certain piece of information.

    Several years ago, when I was an undergrad, I applied for and was accepted to a highly competitive internship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All of their offers of employment are “conditional” pending a successful background investigation and polygraph examination. To make a long story short, my offer of employment was rescinded after taking the polygraph examination, (Polygraph examinations are widely used in the intelligence community as a determining factor in employment, despite their widely reported and documented inaccuracies.)

    My question is whether I should mention my conditional offer of employment from the FBI, despite having had it later rescinded. My undergraduate career was largely directed towards a job in intelligence, and even being offered this internship was an honor. BUT, I think that most people think of the polygraph as a fool-proof “lie-detector” and they might think “We don’t want this polygraph-failing scumbag at our school.”


    1. Hi Parker, I’m so happy you love the book and I truly appreciate all 5-star reviews! Thank you so much for taking the time to do that.
      About your question:
      You absolutely cannot mention the internship in any part of your application. No way, no how.
      Hope this helps!

  6. Hi Ann, Thanks so much for sharing your great tips and videos for law school admission. I’m working on my personal statement…well, at this point it’s all in my head as I develop ideas and try to decide on a theme. After reviewing the info on your site, I’ve decided to back away from my original idea which was to focus on my close friend who was injustly sentenced to 14 years in prison. I see now that this sort of story is too common and would come off as pandering for sympathy.

    While my friend’s situation has impacted my decision to attend law school, there is another more personal story that greatly influenced my decision – that is I was discriminated against for my religion at the workplace, ultimately resulting in my being “laid off.” Not only that, but my previous employer then tried to stop me from receiving unemployment benefits. I hired a lawyer and was successfully able to negotiate an out-of-court settlement for my case.

    My hesitation in recounting this story in my personal statement is that it could/would reveal my religious background…something that I think some liberal-minded law schools may not like. Is this fear grounded? Should I use this story or not, in your opinion? While I know it would be illegal for any admissions council to discredit my acceptance based on religion, I also know that there are some people who have a strong dislike for my religion and may find some other less important flaw on my application to deny me by.

    1. Hey Nice Guy, So glad the videos are helpful.
      I think both ideas are good ones, and perhaps both could be incorporated into your essay.
      I’m wondering what religion you feel people dislike…. If it’s one that is grounded in hate or intolerance, you might have a point. But you could focus your story on your interaction with the law and perhaps avoid this… So much depends on how something is executed that it’s hard for me to give you a definitive response on this over the blog.

  7. Hi Ann,

    Two questions have come up in the last edits of my personal statement.

    (1) I am using one very basic statistic about U.S. incarceration rates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Do I need to cite this, and if so, how?

    (2) I start with an anecdote that runs throughout the essay, and the current version uses names of those involved. I think it flows a bit better with the inclusion of names but these would need to be changed. Should I change them (with an asterisk, perhaps) or try to keep them out?

    I’m worried a name change note AND a citation note may be too bulky and possibly not appropriate for a personal statement?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    1. Hi Katharine,
      Unfortunately I can’t really answer these without reading the essay and how you do these things. Sorry!

  8. Ann,
    I have been out of school for 2 years, and undergrad was a long process due to my mothers illness. She was diagnosed my freshman year 2004 and fought a long hard battle until her death in 2009, after that i went back to school knowing she wanted me to finish. my last two years i was on point with a 3.45 but my previous gpa and scattered begging really hurt my overall, now at 26 i know law school is what i want. Should my ps contain any or all of this information? i feel like i want to explain myself.

    1. Monica, I’m sorry to hear about your mother. You will explain this when you explain why your education was interrupted, which frees up your personal statement to address your strengths.

  9. Hi Ann,

    Thanks for posting these videos, they’re great.

    Do you think its okay to write about family problems that I overcame like my parents divorce or is this too childish? I am mentioning how this made me stronger and more focused in school.

    1. Anita, Glad you like the videos.
      I think it’s ok to use a childhood experience as a set-up for later accomplishments, yes. Divorce as a childhood story works if you set it up to show financial independence, etc. If things were particularly bad during the divorce, there are other ways to show how you had to change/adapt, how it influenced your later choices, and even your perception of a courtroom/lawyer.

  10. Hi Ann, these video postings are really helpful! I just had a question about choosing a topic for the PS. I know that the PS should be personal and reflect some qualities that may not be shown in my resume. But I was wondering if the PS needs to connect with law school?? (i.e. answer why i am applying to law school or how these qualities/experiences will help me in law school).
    If so, how explicit do I have to address these issues? Will I need to dedicate at least a paragraph/sentence on how my personal experience connects to law school OR will just “showing” myself enough?

    1. J.J.,
      I’m so glad you like the videos. I can’t stand to watch myself on video, so I’m glad they are at least useful to others!
      PS doesn’t need to explicitly state why the qualities will help you in law school – the reader is pretty smart (hopefully! usually!) and intuitive. But if you want to briefly pull it all together to make sure your purpose is known, that can help. It’s hard to say without seeing exactly what you’ve written 🙂

  11. Dear Ann,

    First, thank you so much for posting these videos. They are a huge help!

    I am pretty frustrated with my personal statement at the moment. I wanted to write about my experiences as a mental health worker with emotionally disturbed children. I was thinking about using an anecdote about one young girl in particular who, at the end of my first summer of working in the treatment facility, gave me a hug. (She hated being high-fived at the start of the summer.) However, I am afraid of law schools thinking that I am spending too much time focusing on hardships of someone else. I’m trying to approach the story from the angle of our relationship: how I helped her and how she, unknowingly, shaped my thoughts and character with her actions. Her story and hug was what made me want to go to law school.

    I’m worried that it’ll sound cliche and trite!

    Do you think it sounds overdone or cliche? Any advice on this? Should I focus more on me in this essay to point of exclusion of what she helped me to change about myself? I’d value ANY feedback!

    Thank you!

    1. Devon,
      I’m glad the videos are helpful.
      I hate to tell you that this approach does sound cheesy…. you need to keep the focus on you, your experience, your motivations.

  12. Ann–
    I’m having trouble getting started. The idea of law school didn’t enter my mind until I began working at Child Protective Services 6 years ago and discovered the ins and outs of family law. I don’t want to start the PS off sounding too negative or appear law school is a fallback option or Plan-B for me. I also don’t want to come across too “save the world” either by explaining how my passion for child welfare and the system has lead me to applying to law school. I’m afraid it will come across as very “oh she woke up and decided to go to law school today”.

    1. AAW, most people don’t have a life long desire to go to law school – and if they do, they often sound naive. I think you’re worrying too much about negatives – get your story out – make sure it’s sincere and that it discusses accomplishments/positive aspects of your experiences rather than approach things from a perspective of offering excuses.

  13. Ann,

    Your videos are great and very helpful! My PS is going to focus on maturity and overcoming obstacles in my life. I was charged with DUI in 2007, and then in 2010 I was cited for public drunkenness. I was not convicted of either charge and I stopped drinking in Oct 2010. My question is: since I have to list these charges on my application, should I try to turn them into a positive by writing about accepting responsibility and making the decision to stop drinking or should I not mention them at all in the personal statement? Thank you so much for your help.

    1. Justin, I’m really glad the videos are helpful.
      Keep the story to your addendum, and talk about how you stopped drinking 2 years ago.
      Save your personal statement for something completely different.
      Happy New Year!

  14. Hi Ann,

    Great videos! They are lots of help. When writing about why I want to go to law school, is it accepted to write about what type of law I want to pursue? I’ve heard from some people that it is and some people have said to keep it as general as possible. Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Sarah, I’m so happy these are helpful!
      If you can really make an argument based on your experiences and background then it’s fine to write about a particular area of law, but you need to show you can really back it up with knowledge and research and experience, otherwise it just sounds naive and meaningless.

  15. Hi Ann,

    I’m having a huge problem with personal statement writing. All of the other commenters are talking about their obstacles they’ve overcome or the incredible opportunities they’ve had and how to incorporate them into a statement.

    My problem is that I haven’t had any experiences like this- I had a great childhood, have never been travelling, have never had an internship, and haven’t had any experiences that make me stand out. I do volunteering (just in my community) and am involved in a few student clubs at school, but I don’t feel like that is enough. On top of that, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 12 but I don’t have a real reason for why I wanted this… I’ve never had any positive or negative experience with the law (especially criminal law, which I want to do).

    What is someone like me supposed to write about??

    1. TooBroing, I LOVE THIS QUESTION! Most successful law school applicants haven’t faced significant drama or hardships.
      Ask your friends and family what they think is interesting about you. Think about what you consider to be your greatest accomplishment (whether it’s resume worthy or not). Think about the choices you’ve made, personally, in college, etc., and what they say about you. Be creative!

  16. Thanks so much for the videos. I’m in the process of deciding on a topic and this is a huge help. I’m a Spanish and Creative Writing double major and I spent last summer in El Salvador with a literacy brigade. I’ll be spending this winter break in a Peruvian orphanage to help me work on my Honor’s project, a novel about immigration issues. I noticed that you said not to discuss studying abroad, but this is the reason that I want to go into law. I’m now fully committed to immigration law and I feel as though (as someone with a creative writing background) I need to justify that. I’m very concerned that I’ll come across as someone who couldn’t get a job and decided law school was a good plan B. Thoughts?

    1. StudyAbroad, I think you are thinking along the right lines! I don’t think these examples are typical study abroad things. Fluency in Spanish and immigration are a great mix!

  17. Dear Ann Levine,
    I was academically dismissed from law school two years ago and have now started the process of reapplying. I’m quite stuck on how to even begin my personal statement. When I was in law school I had medical issues and was on a lot of medication making it impossible to dedicate my entire self into my studies. Also, my dad was undergoing an intensive dangers surgery when I was taking my finals. I saw above the mentioning of an addendum. What exactly is that? and do you have any insight on what I need to do as a readmission? Thank you

    1. Hi Jess,
      An addendum is basically your legal argument where you present the facts surrounding the dismissal and your poor performance in law school and make your case for why this won’t happen to you a second time.

  18. Hi Ann,
    I graduated high school a year early, and college a semester early, because I wanted to use that time to travel. After being overseas for a year, it truly has opened my eyes to the world and changed my perspective on life. I want to include this information in my personal statement, however I don’t want it to blend in with the ‘study abroad’ essays. How can I differentiate myself and highlight my experiences but also stand out?
    Thanks a bunch,

    1. Hi Julia,
      I think the fact that you made that decision and how it changed you, made your more independent, made you more focused in college, etc. has potential so long as you use it to provide context for other things you did once you were in college and you don’t limit yourself to a travel story.

  19. Ann,

    Hi! Thank you for all these wonderful videos; they are incredibly helpful.

    While I was an undergrad, I was a victim of sexual assault. Should I write my PS on the aftermath and recovery, or is that far too personal?

    Thank you!!

    1. Al,
      There is the possibility of over-sharing, but if you stay away from graphic details, it should like a story worth telling, especially if the emphasis is on how you overcame it and recovered.

  20. Dear Ann:

    I performed poorly in college as my GPA graduating from Rutgers was a 2.7. I was involved in an abusive relationship, married him, suffered domestic abuse and got divorced two years ago. During that time, despite my poor GPA, I obtained my paralegal certification and gained significant paralegal work experience. Can I write about my abusive relationship and my legal work experience inspiring me to apply to law school? Thank you!

  21. Ann,

    I am an undergraduate senior studying Political Science. I have good grades, and I am projected to do well on the LSAT. For my personal statement, I have a variety of ideas. I am going to include my LGBT status on my diversity statement, but I was hoping you might have some thoughts on my personal statement?

    -History of abuse from my stepfather and single parent home
    -dual enrollment in high school, so I’m only 19 and trying to enter law school
    -an internship at a nonprofit environmental agency
    -interest in civil rights and women’s rights (involvement in school organizations as officers)


    1. Hi – your background is really impressive. I don’t like to give too much personalized advice on the blog format because there’s so much I don’t know about you, but consider that your involvements and internship can be expressed on your resume. I hope this helps.

  22. Hi Ann,
    I am an undergrad currently and struggling with the balance between oversharing and telling a story that defines who I am entirely. When I was 6-9 I was sexually assault by my best friend leading to a distinctive change in my personality as a child, due to obvious trauma and holding on to that secret. When I was 20 I was raped twice within an 8 month period, which enacted me to tell my parents and doctor about the childhood experiences (however not the college experiences). Since that point I have been in trauma therapy and living a great happy life. I’ve known I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age, and known exactly what I wanted to study (family law more specifically child advocacy and sexual abuse cases due to my past). At first I thought it would be easy to tell the story of everything I have overcome and why I am so passionate about pursuing law school to help people, however now I am unsure if this is the right idea or if there is an approach you would recommend other than not being graphic to the details. I want to make the best impression to law schools without losing why I am so passionate, I hope that all makes sense. Thank you for your videos!

    1. Hi – I’m sorry to hear this, and unfortunately it’s something I hear all too often. It sounds like you may want to consider writing a diversity statement about obstacles overcome.

  23. Hi Ann,
    I stumbled upon your website while looking for tips on writing my personal statement of law school. I’m having a hard time choosing what I want to write my personal statement on. I thought about writing it on overcoming being sexually assaulted my freshmen year and the ensuing depression that several impacted both my personal and academic life. I do not want to be perceived as looking for sympathy or using this to explain my low academic record, my GPA slowly dropped to a 2.9 through my sophomore, junior, and part of my senior year. I was unable to re take some of the courses I did poorly in but was able to get into a few and improve my gpa to a 3.0 overall and was able to get on the Deans list my last two semesters.
    While I realize this can be a depressing and negative subject to talk about it is the reason why I was inspired to go to law school in the first place, so I can help others achieve the Justice and help that I never received. I realized that if I chose to write about this topic that going into too much detail would not be wise I am wondering what else I can include or not included in my approach on the subject in my paper.

    1. Hi Riki, I would leave the explanation in an addendum explaining your grades, and if you mention this in the personal statement as motivation for going to law school, keep everything positive – what you’ve done, etc.

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