Friday, March 02, 2007

Law School Personal Statementa Advice No.2-4 - H

Tips no.2-4 regarding Law School Personal Statementa Advice I posted in some previous entry

2. Write for Your Audience

1. Admissions committees at top law schools usually consist of professional admissions officers, professors, and students. These are the people who will read your personal statement.

2. Your audience wants to enter into your thoughts and perspective, and they want specific details about you.

3. The ideal effect you want to achieve is personal transformation for the reader. The very best personal statements are the unforgettable handful that move the reader.

3. Anticipate the Committee’s Cross-Examination

Because very few law schools offer interviews, the personal statement functions in an introductory capacity. Thus a good personal statement should implicitly address the questions the committee will ask themselves about you if they had an opportunity. A well-crafted personal statement will not answer the following questions directly, but it will embed the desired answers in the narrative:

1. Will you be a good lawyer?

2. What was your tangible impact on an institution, an organization, or individuals?

3. Have you reached beyond the safety net of college into the real world?

4. Do you have a plan for your goals, or are you a dreamer?

5. Can you put yourself in another subject position in order to see all sides of an issue?

6. What will you bring to our law school?

7. Have you been a pro-active starter in the past? Did you raise money for what you started?

Do you know how to organize? Do you follow through on what you began?

8. Have you demonstrated your ability both to work with a team and to delegate?

4. The First Steps to an Exceptional Personal Statement

Argumentation and Persuasion

You have three purposes in your personal statement that demand the art of persuasion:

1. To make your reader believe you should be admitted.

2. To clear away any doubts your reader might have about you.

3. To make your reader act on your behalf.

You are writing a persuasive essay, but it should also have some of the elements of a persuasive speech. That is why it is generally called a personal “statement,” instead of personal essay. The personal statement is a unique genre and very difficult to master, since at most people write one or two in their lives. Most importantly for this genre, you want to build a strong ethos. That means your audience should like you and find you authoritative, competent, thoughtful, and honest. You want to demonstrate that you are a perceptive leader, who can communicate well with others, that you are open to new experiences and are enthusiastic. You do not want to come across as too formal, stuffy or too technical. You must give your audience evidence for your assertion that you should be admitted. The best essays will interpret the evidence provided by explaining how each piece of evidence contributes to supporting the assertion. The best essays will also be clear, concise, and graceful.

There are several types of evidence you may choose to use. Good personal statements use more than one type of evidence, and exceptional personal statements use them all.

1. Logos: Reason and logic, including facts, figures, expert testimony, and syllogism.

Use logos to persuade with facts.

2. Pathos: Emotional appeals, including examples and narratives that build sympathy.

Use pathos to persuade with feelings. Show you care passionately about


Caution: Using too much pathos, including wretched descriptions, fear or

guilt, or even too many glowing adjectives can make your audience feel

manipulated, offended, or turned off.

3. Ethos: Credibility, including perceived competence, character, and likeability. Use ethos to persuade by authority.

4. Mythos: Belief and value patterns of an audience, including traditional narratives, sayings, metaphors, and symbols. Use mythos to add power, subtle rhetorical control and wider significance to your argument.

A persuasive personal statement will be an organic whole from beginning to end, not a collection of elements held together with a few flimsy pieces of tape you call “Why I should be admitted.” An exceptional law school personal statement will have themes running throughout like a functioning circulatory system, with these themes discussed and interpreted in the introduction and conclusion.

Structuring Your Statement

You should be able to tell someone how your personal statement is structured, what the logical progression is, what each of the roughly six to ten paragraphs is about, and how each paragraph both interprets evidence for its specific claim and contributes to the overall effect of the essay. You should also try to have a unifying theme. This might organically develop from your attention-grabbing material at the beginning of the statement. For most people, this will be a story with a moral strong enough to be your motto: the “angle” from which you are presenting yourself.

There are several standard structures for law school personal statements. You may use more than one:

1. Tell a personal narrative or story. People remember stories. Have a clear ending to your story/stories as well as an explicit lesson. This type of essay typically allows you to demonstrate aspects of your character and leadership skills.

2. Show how you have made chronological growth, including steps you will take in the future. It is generally better to avoid giving long narratives about some aspect of yourself before college. If you have a good reason for mentioning your childhood or adolescence (such as an unusual history abroad or a specific obstacle you have overcome), then it is better to keep it to one short, vivid paragraph and refer to it again later in the essay, if you are making it the unifying theme of your statement. This structure relies on time to move it forward, but that is not enough: it also requires a theme you are tracing through time.

3. Present a problem and how you solved it or would solve it. This is called the problem-solution structure. For example, you might discuss what’s lacking in the legal system or society or demonstrate a need for change and then give evidence for how you have begun to solve this problem. This type of essay showcases your analytic reasoning.

4. Use a metaphor or analogy to help your audience understand you. This demonstrates your rhetorical control and usually integrates mythos into your statement.

5. Pose rhetorical questions to your audience or use suspense. This structure showcases your skill in persuasion and argumentation.

6. Describe what you have learned from another lawyer or mentor. Also analyze what you would do differently. This type of essay allows you to showcase your analytic reasoning.

7. Begin with a meaningful quote, which you explain and refer to throughout your statement. This is a difficult structure to master, but when it is done well, it can be satisfying for the reader. Do not randomly pick a quote from Bartlett’s. Do not pick a quote by some famous person whose work you have never read or barely encountered. Spend some time unpacking the various levels and resonances of the quote in relation to your life and goals.

8. List reasons you should be admitted. This structure, like the chronological structure, needs a unifying theme, or it is completely boring. It is best to avoid this structure.

How to Write a Strong Introduction

1. Attention-grabbing material: Hook them with a remarkable or a life-changing experience, an anecdote, or a question that will be answered by your law school personal statement.

2. Benefits: Make your essay worth their time to read.

3. Credentials: Build ethos.

4. Direction: Tell them your thesis and structure.

How to Write a Strong Conclusion

1. Discover something new for your audience that you set up along the way.

2. The conclusion is the final chord of music resolved. It should pull together the different parts of the personal statement, rephrase main ideas, interpret the importance of the choice of topics, point towards the future, and give the cue for ending with a rhetorical flourish.

Appeal to your Audience:

1. Using pathos will appeal to your audience’s feelings and emotions and make them more sympathetic to you. Several ways to use pathos include: writing your story as a quest narrative (which also adds mythos), asking the audience to think of a time when…, using rhetorical questions, using suspense, describing a great disappointment with details but ending with a positive lesson learned, describing a great joy.

2. Your audience will be one of three types of learners: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Try to appeal to all of these by working in visual descriptions for visual learners, discussing times in which you excelled in oral communication for auditory learners, and discussing specific ways in which you were active for kinesthetic learners (kinesthetic learners are those who learn by physically doing rather than reading or listening). Your audience will primarily self-select as visual learners, because these typically include people who are good at reading. The bottom line is this: Vivid, active language is crucial.

3. Try to make the reader feel he or she has taken a short mental vacation. Whisk the reader away into your world. Make the reader smile.

4. If you think the audience can’t relate to a specific piece of evidence you have given to back up your claim that you should be admitted, try to describe it so that the audience can feel connected imaginatively. This applies to describing your work in a different nation and culture, for example.

5. Your audience will perk up if you describe a campus visit you made and give specific details about which of their colleagues you met with and how that visit changed your perspective.

6. Appeal to universal human values, including success, freedom, honesty, and friendship, among others.


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