Real Law School Personal Statements Reviewed: Offering Substantive Evidence

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Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - Real Law School Personal Statements Reviewed: Offering Substantial Evidence by jdMission

In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements. What’s working well? What’s not? If it were his/her essay, what would be changed? Find out!


Note: To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements, though any identifying names and details have been changed or removed. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work.

Personal Statement

Since my route to applying for law school has been somewhat circuitous, I feel it is relevant to describe the guiding principles that have determined my trajectory. I freely admit that this decision does not represent the culmination of a lifelong dream—a point that, for me, is evidence that I have made the right choice. In short, these principles are a committed passion for learning “why the world wags and what wags it” (Merlyn’s description of learning in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King [1958]) and a genuine concern for the environment. These two strands, having each grown stronger as I have matured, have come together to help me clarify my values, and therefore my interests and goals.

While intellectual curiosity often wanes after college, I have experienced the opposite inclination. Upon graduating in 2005, I resisted the temptation to take what seemed like the next logical step: the pursuit of a graduate degree in literature, my undergraduate field of study. Instead, I accepted a position as a college admissions counselor at my alma mater, and in my free time, read prodigiously and thought honestly about continuing my formal education. I took a class in environmental science, audited two in philosophy, and did everything I could to become not only more informed, but more thoughtful. Since then, I have expanded my realm of awareness and interest to the point that I find nearly everything—from literature to science to politics—an opportunity for intellectual engagement. While this attribute has its downfalls—a single person cannot learn the world in a lifetime—I feel fortunate to have had this passion instilled in me from a young age, even if it has only truly begun to flourish in the past several years.

Having worked full-time for two years, I applied and was accepted on full fellowship to the master’s program in Environmental Philosophy at the University of North Texas (a leading program in the field). The impetus behind my decision was a desire to develop a meaningful framework in which to situate my concern for the environment. Today, issues such as sustainable energy and development, the imminent threats posed by global climate change, and the accelerating, anthropogenic loss of biodiversity occupy a central role in the media and public discourse. Despite the increasing recognition of the importance and even urgency of these issues, there continues to be a dearth of agreed-upon, concrete policies to address them. In addition to the obstacle of the detrimental economic impacts of scaling back our resource consumption, there is the fervently debated question of who should be held responsible and how. Furthermore, there is a plethora of arguments as to why these problems must be addressed: among others, ensuring a livable planet for future generations, conserving endangered species, protecting people in vulnerable parts of the world, and providing for the continued flourishing of human civilization. The question of what constitutes the core of our obligation to the natural environment is at the heart of environmental ethics, and it has brought many of my concerns into sharp focus.

At this point, I became interested in the relevance of these questions to policy and lawmaking. The “linear model” of science-based policy (i.e., the more scientific data we accumulate, the easier it will be to make effective decisions) is incomplete. Gains in scientific understanding and technology must be complemented by meaningful discourse about our environmental values. Otherwise, we (at the individual, national, and international levels) may never adequately address these problems that, in terms of both physical and temporal scales, represent uncharted territory. We would be better equipped to more effectively (and democratically) address environmental problems if there were mechanisms in place for candidly discussing and incorporating values into our decision-making, with the understanding that doing so is neither “biased” nor “unscientific,” but a legitimate and indispensable component of the process.

My interest in this juncture of ethical thought and practical implementation led me to consider environmental law. I emphasize “led me,” because, on its own, such an academic interest is insufficient to warrant attending law school and entering the profession; for example, one could easily explore these questions within academia. But while I hope to have the opportunity to inform my work with theory, my personality and goals are more aligned with praxis. Within environmental law, I can envision myself working in a variety of capacities in both the non-profit and government sectors. However, I will not be in a position to make an informed decision in that regard until I have actually attended law school; any thoughts on such specific career goals are merely speculative.

As I began to research and think through the possibility of pursuing a law career, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in studying and practicing law more generally. While my concern for the environment was the entry point for considering law school, it came to serve as a catalyst to open my eyes to a broader interest in the law. Therefore, I wish to make it abundantly clear that I plan to attend with a consciously open mind, harking back to the overarching principle of intellectual pursuit that guides me. Since it is likely unsurprising that New York University is my first choice, given my interests, I will not elaborate excessively on that point. While I reiterate that I am approaching law school with an open mind, I do know that I want to work for the public interest in some capacity; hence, I am attracted to NYU’s unparalleled commitment to and opportunities in public interest law. My interest in environmental law would be fulfilled by the myriad opportunities within the program (including the presence on the faculty of Affiliate Professor Dale Jamieson, whose work I know from his contributions to environmental philosophy). Having done extensive research on NYU’s curriculum, centers, faculty, and clinical opportunities, I cannot imagine a better fit for me. Having given myself the time and life experience necessary to make a thoughtful and meaningful decision, I am confident that my values and interests are eminently consistent with this career choice. I genuinely look forward to beginning my law studies, and hope, in turn, to bring valuable perspectives and experience to the table. Thank you for your consideration.

jdMission Review

Overall Lesson: If you claim that you care about something, prove it by offering substantive evidence.

First Impression: This essay begins in a similar fashion to another one in this series, but it succeeds where that one fails. For comparison, let us examine the introductory paragraphs from both essays. The other essay begins as follows:

It may come as a surprise to anyone reading this that someone like myself thinks I have a shot at going to a law school as prestigious as [the target school]. However, it is exactly people like me who I think would make the best lawyers. I have had to struggle my whole life to learn what it is I want to do—be a lawyer—and thus come to the practice with a greater sense of purpose than many people I know who have wanted to be lawyers ever since seeing their first Law and Order episode.

This essay begins with the following:

Since my route to applying for law school has been somewhat circuitous, I feel it is relevant to describe the guiding principles that have determined my trajectory. I freely admit that this decision does not represent the culmination of a lifelong dream—a point that, for me, is evidence that I have made the right choice. In short, these principles are a committed passion for learning “why the world wags and what wags it” and a genuine concern for the environment. These two strands, having each grown stronger as I have matured, have come together to help me clarify my values, and therefore my interests and goals.

These introductory paragraphs are notably different. Although both candidates emphasize that they have not been aspiring to become lawyers since they were children, the former does so in a sloppy, somewhat apologetic way, while the latter is confident, clear, and poised in her explanation.

Strengths: The candidate’s essay unfolds in a way that works structurally. She introduces how she was led to law, she goes on to describe her path in more detail, and she ends with her vision for her legal education and career.

But she also accomplishes two specific goals. First, in the third paragraph, she does something far too few candidates do, and even fewer do well: she actually describes the issues she claims to care about. She could have stopped at “The impetus behind my decision was a desire to develop a meaningful framework in which to situate my concern for the environment.” Instead, she goes on to describe in precise terms what she means: “sustainable energy and development, the imminent threats posed by global climate change, and the accelerating, anthropogenic loss of biodiversity.”

Second, she delves deeper into what she believes makes these issues so urgent: “there continues to be a dearth of agreed-upon, concrete policies to address them.” And although she might have then stopped there, she continues, reiterating her sincere, thoughtful passion for the environment: “Furthermore, there is a plethora of arguments as to why these problems must be addressed: among others, ensuring a livable planet for future generations, conserving endangered species, protecting people in vulnerable parts of the world, and providing for the continued flourishing of human civilization.”

By the end of the third paragraph, I am persuaded of her concern for the environment; she has actually proven it to me by providing substance.

Weaknesses: Despite being well written, her penultimate paragraph is superfluous and errs on the side of apologizing for or overexplaining her interest in law school, which candidates should never do. All but the first line of it should be eliminated. I would advise her to cut text as shown here, and then make the first sentence of what is currently the last paragraph the second sentence of this paragraph:

My interest in this juncture of ethical thought and practical implementation led me to consider environmental law. I emphasize “led me,” because, on its own, such an academic interest is insufficient to warrant attending law school and entering the profession; for example, one could easily explore these questions within academia. But while I hope to have the opportunity to inform my work with theory, my personality and goals are more aligned with praxis. Within environmental law, I can envision myself working in a variety of capacities in both the non-profit and government sectors. However, I will not be in a position to make an informed decision in that regard until I have actually attended law school; any thoughts on such specific career goals are merely speculative. As I began to research and think through the possibility of pursuing a law career, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in studying and practicing law more generally.

Finally, the candidate rambles a bit in the last paragraph when assuring the school that she is not interested only in environmental law. I did not think her interest was limited to that field, so she is trying to disprove an assumption that I had not actually made. In addition—and this is a minor point—the sentence “While this attribute has its downfalls—a single person cannot learn the world in a lifetime—I feel fortunate to have had this passion instilled in me” does not really make sense. The inability to “learn the world in a lifetime” is not a downfall but a fact; no one can do this. She should either describe a downfall (e.g., “I am constantly frustrated,” “I can never become an expert in any one thing, which is irritating”) or express the idea differently.

Final Assessment

I would work with this candidate to streamline her final paragraph and advise her to cut some of the text, as I explained earlier in this review. However, I would also compliment her on writing a strong essay and wish her the best of luck in what will surely be a successful and satisfying career in law. 📝


Read more real law school personal statement reviews.


jdMission is a leading law school admissions consulting firm with a team of dedicated consultants who have not only been through the law school application process themselves, but also possess elite communications skills and can help you navigate this crucial—and often perplexing—process. Your consultant will serve as your coach and partner every step of the way, advising you on school selection, helping you brainstorm personal statement topics, editing your essays and resume, helping you manage your recommenders, advising on any addenda, and more! 

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