LLM candidates: How to write a personal statement

This is an excerpt from "The US LLM: From Whether to When, What, Where, and How," by Desiree Jaeger-Fine. The ebook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It is reprinted with permission. 

5. Personal statement

The personal statement is probably the aspect of the application packet that is the most feared. It is feared in part because it is an important part of the application process. But it is also feared because it requires us to do something we may have never done before and because it calls on us to write about ourselves in a way that makes us look interesting as people.

Here are some points of guidance as you think about writing your personal statement: a. Relax! Don’t worry too much about the content:

Admissions counselors and others who are on the application review team do not expect that applicants will have superhuman qualities. It is rare that law schools see an application from someone who has saved someone’s life, negotiated peace between nations, or won a prize for literary achievement. What schools do want to see, however, is a person who has some dimension beyond that of a student/lawyer. Every person is unique and this is what law schools want to see when they read personal statements. The key is to find that uniqueness in yourself and put it into words.

b. The personal statement should be well written:

The single most important thing about the personal statement is that it be well written. For most US law schools, the personal statement will double as a writing sample (most law schools do not require that you submit a separate writing sample). To that end, the personal statement should reflect that you are capable of writing a mature, serious, formal piece of writing. It should have a theme that you develop throughout the piece and write about in a coherent, well-organized fashion. You should edit your personal statement through the process of critical revision. To the extent possible, the personal statement should be free of grammatical and typographical errors. Sentences and paragraphs should flow logically from one to the next. Schedule your time so that you can leave at least one day between readings; you will be amazed at how some distance between readings can improve your editing process.

c. Make the personal statement specific to the school(s) to which you are applying:

The personal statement should be specific to the law school for which you are writing it. You should somewhere in your personal statement talk about why you want to do the LLM in general, but

also why this particular law school and program is of particular interest to you. How does this school and this program fit your overall academic, professional, and personal goals?

d. Catch the reader’s attention:

Try to write in a way that will catch the reader’s attention. Admissions counselors and others who read applications may spend day after day doing little other than reading applications. A personal statement that stands out will be part of an application that gets noticed, and is a most welcome break from reading applications that lack this dynamic. Some people like to begin with a quote or an anecdote or a question. Be upbeat, be positive, be enthusiastic! Whatever you write, be sure that it is interesting and will attract the attention of the reader. This is a great way to differentiate yourself from many other applications.

e. The personal statement should be personal:

The personal statement should be personal. This means that it is hard to give firm rules about what will work for your personal statement. But the goal clearly is to see you as a person, not just as a professional. Combine aspects of your personality with your academic and professional persona; include in your personal statement things that make you unique as an individual.

This should make obvious that your personal statement should not simply repeat what is on your resume in narrative form; the resume serves one function and the personal statement another. There is no reason to describe every program you studied in, job you have had, or deal you have worked on. These are all in your resume. The personal statement is something different, so you should avoid the common mistake of simply converting your resume into paragraph form and calling it a personal statement. The admissions office will review your resume carefully and it does not need to see the same information twice. The personal statement is your opportunity to present yourself in a different way and to give the admissions committee information about you that it will not get from your resume. Don’t waste that opportunity – use it to show something about who you are as a person that is not apparent from the much more objectively written resume, in which you describe your education and work.

So what should you write about? Assuming that you haven’t saved a life, won a Nobel Prize, or negotiated peace among nations, you can still write an interesting essay. Consider the list below, which may give you some ideas for what to write:

• Highlight accomplishments not clear from your resume
• Explain gaps, special problems
• What makes you the kind of person law schools would want in their community
• What can you contribute to the law school community?
• What demonstrates that you can handle the challenges of living abroad and studying in a

different legal system?
• What special life lessons have you learned?
• What qualities do you have that demonstrate leadership ability?
• Can you give an example of how you dealt with a difficult situation or overcame a weakness or

• What do you consider a defining moment in your life?

One additional point when it comes to the content of the personal statement. It is far preferable to illustrate your attributes than to simply state them. What we mean by this is that saying you can thrive in a fast-paced environment is much less impressive and meaningful than giving an example of how you have thrived in such a context. Let the reader arrive at that obvious conclusion on her own rather than just telling her how you perceive yourself to be. You might consider making a list of attributes that you would like to demonstrate yourself as possessing. Think of how you