It’s law school application season, and there are plenty of applicants out there anal-retentively tending to their personal statements in attempts to make themselves sound like the beacon of light that law schools are searching for to join their class, maintain their ranks, and get all those fancy entry-level BigLaw jobs that haven’t been shifted to India.
So what makes for a good personal statement, anyway? Well, for applying to law school, you would think it would be saying how much you love the law, dream about the law, sleep with the law under you pillow, live, breathe, eat, drink, and piss law. All the time. Everyday.
As JETs, you should already know better, but if you don’t Yale Law School’s associate dean has kindly stated the obvious for you.
Reflect back on that moment when you first applied to JET. You had to write a personal statement, right? What did you write about?
I would like to imagine that after a little bit of internet research (or a few moments thought), you came to the conclusion that writing about your deep and profound knowledge and interest in everything Japan might be a red flag to recruiters. If the rosy expectations you expound on in your personal statements are going to clearly clash with reality, what’s going to happen when your expectations don’t match with reality? For example, if you spend half of your personal statement expounding about how you adore Japanese technological innovations, and ignoring (or not realizing) that you might have to live in a small apartment with no central heat and keep your toothpaste in the fridge to keep it from freezing, I might be nervous as a recruiter to how you might react when you find your placement doesn’t have flying cars and robots all over the place. Linch-pinning your personal statment to anime and manga interest has been a known red flag for years. Talking about your lengthy research project on the existential questions raised by Super Mario Bros. 2 being a near duplicate of Doki-doki Panikku would similarly be ill-advised.
So, too, with the law.
Lawyers don’t want to work around people who live and breathe the law anymore than your JTE would want to constantly hear about your opinions on DBZ or the anything else Japan-obsessive. Much like a Japan interest is almost implied in your application to JET, so too an interest in the law is implied merely by the fact your applying to law school.
Why waste a whole page gushing about your interest in the law, when you can cover the genesis of your interest in a short paragraph, and then spend time actually explaining your background, adaptability, work ethic, and academic strength: things that will actually help you succeed in law school, and help make the law school you go to end up looking good?
The entirety of the article from Yale’s associate dean is here, and is well worth reading. While I would love to pretend the advice is nothing more than Yale elitism, which some of the commenters have done, I cannot do so in the face of what I consider to be legitimately helpful advice.
Oddly enough, the one consistent piece of advice I have heard from law professors is this: if you want to stand out on your personal statement, say you’re coming to law school for the money. Almost every other applicant out there is so busy trying to sound like a resurrection of Atticus Finch that no one ever brings up the desire to come to law school to actually increase their earnings potential.
Other advice for personal statements can be found here.
And sample statements here.