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Writing a Personal Statement for Graduate Legal Studies

July 19, 2020
Tulane personal statement flyer

When applying to graduate school, your personal statement is a critical representation of your personality, passion and commitment, and it’s of equal importance to your academic record. Why? Because while it’s generally expected that those who apply to graduate programs are both qualified and motivated, it could be your personal statement that separates you from the crowd and persuades the admissions team to settle on you as a prime candidate.

If you ask five experts how to write a personal statement for graduate-level legal studies, you will likely receive five different answers. But no matter whose guidelines you choose to follow, pay attention to these universal principles undergirding the process.

Seek Not to Impress, but to Make an Impression

Those who will render your admissions decision are cut from the same cloth with which you are trying to sew. Many of them will have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, and they have each achieved considerable expertise in the legal field—so they are keenly aware of the qualities you will need to succeed.

With this in mind, respect the legal professionals who you are likely addressing and do not:

  • Try to impose your opinion of the legal field
  • Make generalizations about the legal field
  • Aim to impress your readers with your knowledge of legal language

Remember that your personal statement is more about who you are, and less a demonstration of what you understand about law. Also keep in mind that your readers will see hundreds—possibly thousands—of applicants annually. It is not your goal to impress these people with your current knowledge, but rather to create an impression based on your personal drive, current goals and plans to capitalize on what this program offers.

Offer an Original Perspective

Assume that many (perhaps even most) applicants will share your type and level of legal experience, and that this will be reflected on their resumes. How, then, will you separate yourself from the pack? Your best option may be to leverage your unique perspective on professional experiences common to the field.

When addressing experience in your personal statement, focus your language on creating a picture of yourself that is authentic, specific and memorable. You can juxtapose and complement this information with exploration of your hobbies and emphasis on appropriate aspects of your personal life. Have you participated in relevant volunteer experience? Completed an especially interesting internship? Contributed to noteworthy policy development in your current role? These experiences can enhance your background story and help you begin to stand out from other applicants.

Paint a Picture of Your Experience

The best legal professionals are adept at creating context and building persuasive imagery by evoking specific, believable examples from past precedents. Leverage this same tactic in your personal statement. Instead of simply telling the admissions committee what you are good at, show them—take them on a journey with intentional, detailed examples from your own past.

Don’t wax poetic about lofty themes or grandiose notions; instead, create a focused narrative built on vivid (provable) details and with a specific destination in mind. At the same time, offer your readers a meaningful conclusion to whatever story you present. Tell them explicitly what you learned from each of the experiences you describe, and reiterate how these reflect on your ability to be a successful student of the law.

Open Big and Finish Strong

A “big” opening paragraph will immediately hook the admissions committee, and a strong closing paragraph will provide a satisfying finish to the entire narrative presented in the body of the statement.

What qualifies as a big open? Without exaggerating your experiences or qualifications, establish something definitive about your perspective. Is there a singular aspect of your life driving you to pursue legal studies? If so, use that to anchor your story. Or, is there a unique challenge or opportunity you want to address in your career, one that greater legal knowledge will help you overcome? Introduce themes like these to help establish a clear path through the rest of your statement as you answer more general questions like, “Why this career field?” or “Why this degree program?”

As your essay nears its close, don’t feel that you have to assert any kind of specific moral takeaway. Your admissions committee has heard all of the "honesty and ethics" narratives before, and it’s not what they’re looking for in your personal statement. What they’re after is something with greater impact—a piece of insight that is unique to the things you have learned and that have helped shape your convictions and career endeavors.

Move Forward With Tulane Law

As you prepare your application materials, specifically your personal statement, bear in mind that your goal is to earn an invitation to a real-time interview, whether that happens in person or remotely. To receive this invitation, you must paint yourself as an innovative professional with tangible passion for the legal aspects of your work, and shape your personal statement with polished writing techniques and a confident tone.

Because applying for graduate-level legal studies can be tedious, Tulane University Law School endeavors to keep the process simple and straightforward. If you’re considering our one of our online programs to achieve your current career goals, take a moment to review our efficient admissions process, and then get started on your application today.