Podcast

  • The LSAT:

    Everything You Need To Know About The Test

  • Insider’s Guide to the Law School Personal Statement:

    Telling Your Story

Podcast Episode PersonalStatementAndLetters

Law School Personal Statements & Letters of Recommendation

Where To Begin?

Play in new window | Download

Get ready to think hard, dig deep and do a little soul searching. It’s time to tackle your law school personal statement. The personal statement is the single most important part of your entire application which you can control. So put your LSAT scores and your GPA aside for a bit and think about how you can convince the admission committee that you deserve a spot in their entering 1st year law school class. Our guests will tell you where to begin, what to focus on and how to address any weaknesses in your application, such as a low LSAT score or a weak GPA. You will also learn how to prepare the people you chose to write your letters of recommendation so that your recommendations are consistent with your personal statement and help enhance the overall image you are building of yourself.

More Information on this Topic from our Sponsor

Support for Law School Podcaster comes from Accepted.com. Since 1994, Accepted has helped applicants like you gain acceptance to top law schools. Let Accepted assist you in creating your “killer law school application.” Browse our site to take advantage of free tips, advice, and resources, or work one-on-one with an experienced advisor who will help you prepare a winning personal statement for your dream program. Start your exploration at accepted.com/lawschoolpodcaster and then contact our experienced law school admissions advisors today to discuss your application.

Guests include:

  • Edward Tom, Dean of Admissions, UC Berkeley Law School- Boalt Hall
  • G. Todd Morton, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Vanderbilt University Law School
  • Adam Hoff, Director of Admissions Consulting and Research, Veritas Prep
  • Linda Abraham, President and Founder, Accepted.com
  • Paul Bodine, Author and Senior Editor, Accepted.com
  • Rodia Vance, Assistant Director for Pre-Professional Services, Pre-law Advisor, Emory University
  • Carissa Kranz, Law Student, UC Berkeley Law School – Boalt Hall

Transcription:

Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan. Your entire application package should give the admissions committee a pretty good sense of who you are. Your undergraduate record and your LSAT scores give an impression of your academic skills, but the essays and recommendations especially, are key to revealing the person behind the application. That means that your goal is to give the admissions committee the clearest picture of who you are. LSAT scores and undergraduate grades are what they are but the personal statement is part of the application package you can control, according to Adam Hoff, the Director of Admissions Consulting at Veritas Prep, “The personal statement is probably the most important thing in the law school application beyond those hard numbers.”

We begin with the personal statement. Our experts from inside the admissions office want applicants to know that the personal statement is often the first thing they look at when they open an applicant’s folder, even before viewing the GPA and the LSAT score. They read each one and consider it a valuable tool. Edward Tom is the Dean of Admissions at UC Berkeley Law – Boalt Hall and he tells us how important the personal statement is. “A lot of attention should be placed on the statement because it is the one feature of the application over which the applicant has total control and one should work backwards from the time the applicant thinks about applying and I think most law schools encourage applicants to apply as early in the process as possible. Most applicants should be thinking about the personal statement for a good four to six months in advance of submitting their application and should put together a first draft probably within that time frame. Do not leave this to the last minute; way too much is counting on it.”

Paul Bodine is a Senior Editor at Accepted.com and author of Great Personal Statements for Law School, Perfect Phrases for Law School Acceptance and several other books for professional school admissions. He says applicants can get started writing their personal statements as early as five months in advance. “They need to give themselves at least two months minimum to work on their personal statements so they have time to develop drafts. There should be multiple drafts and also time to set their drafts aside and come back to them after a few days with fresh eyes. They want to work on the draft as often as they can. It’s a rough rule that if they don’t have at least ten revisions of the personal statement, the main essay, they are probably not working on it enough. It’s really got to be something that they keep going back to and refining it. And then, you know, I think they should give themselves a final deadline that gives them a few weeks of buffer in case something happens.”

Linda Abraham is the President and Founder of Accepted.com and she also advises applicants to start brainstorming months in advance. Abraham also says applicants should ask others to read the personal statement but there are reasons why you may not want to invite your 50 closest friends to read it. “Editing by committee will just suck the personality and cohesiveness out of any essay. However, having some input from other parties I think is a very constructive move on the part of the applicant and the applicant should choose two to five people to review the personal statement and they should ask people who either know them well or write well.”Author Paul Bodine agrees it can be helpful for someone to read the applicant’s personal statement and he suggests that this might be an area where consultants can help, “Consultants who have been doing it for a while are really good at identifying strengths that will interest the admissions committee and can tell them whether their stories are really distinctive enough relative to other applicants.”

Rodia Vance, a Pre-law Advisor at Emory University counsels students applying to law school and makes this suggestion, “Here at Emory, for example, we do have a personal statement reviewer who works with my office to help students formulate their ideas and go through their drafts with them. If you don’t have access to that through your undergraduate institution, you can certainly have other friends read it, if you know anyone who has gone to law school or is a lawyer currently, they can read over the document for you. And, of course, you yourself should be doing multiple drafts and revisions as well.”

We also hear some advice from our experts about what applicants should not do when preparing their personal statements. Todd Morton, Assistant Dean and Dean of Admissions at Vanderbilt University Law School says he was struck by this personal statement many years ago, “I was at a law school that had a two-page word limit, or word suggested limit for the personal statement, and when I came to the personal statement and application, there was a cover memo on it explaining that there was just so much to tell with this statement for this person that the personal statement that followed was going to be 10 pages long. And I remembered thinking about that and stopping and thinking that that can be the case that somebody might really have worked hard to boil things down and not being able to do it in two-pages and I opened myself up to the possibility that that 10-pages might be necessary. And when I turned the page and started reading the personal statement, it literally, the first line was ‘it was a dark and stormy night when I was born.’ And the statement continued on and it really was fiery language and a lot of details about things that really didn’t help to communicate any message about the person or the meaning of their achievements. So in a sense it wasn’t so much that I had particular complaints or particular advice about that statement. It did stand out for me because it elevated self-expression over communication. What stood out for me most was simply a lost opportunity for the person to speak directly to the admissions committee and be able to communicate something effectively about themselves.”

Dean Edward Tom at Berkeley has this to say: “I do not recommend copying a personal statement or using a template that is found in various books and what not because most of us who have been in the business a long time are very familiar with those books and those templates and nothing comes across worse than a personal statement that seems disingenuous.”

Adam Hoff, the Director of Admissions Consulting at Veritas Prep agrees, while it is helpful to have others read your personal statement, applicants should exercise careful judgment here. “The thing I always tell people is to couch it when you ask people read it. So you need to let people know what stage it is at and how much criticism you expect back and that can be very helpful. Otherwise, you’re going to keep getting revisions, keep getting changes and it will never be finished.”

Dean of Admissions at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, Edward Tom, tells us that Berkeley weighs the personal statement quite heavily. “If I had to quantify the weight I would weight it about one-third of what we look at, the other two-thirds being respectively the LSAT and the academic record. So if you look at it that way, the personal statement is the same weight as the LSAT score. And the reason we do that is because we have a very large, very talented applicant pool every year. An applicant pool that has many applicants with the same quantitative features, identical quantitative features but we’re much more interested in admitting human beings here, than numbers. So there are a lot of other characteristics that go hand-in-hand with strong academic potential that Berkeley is looking for. A lot of it has to do with the development of one’s voice over time. Learning more about their family background, about the obstacles that you’ve overcome in your life, the journey you’re on, your level of intellectual curiosity, leadership potential, how centered you are (a very Berkeley term but nevertheless I think it’s pretty important in law school student body.)

Accepted.com’s Linda Abraham has successfully guided applicants through the application process at law schools around the country and she tells us that the personal statement and recommendations are carefully evaluated during the admissions process. “The personal statement is absolutely critical and letters of recommendations too, for that matter. It is absolutely critical when your numbers are competitive. If your numbers are both (by both I mean GPA and LSAT) below the 80% range then the personal statement is probably going to be less important. I’m not even sure that, at that point, it gets read.”

Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep agrees. “I’ve been calling the personal statement the new LSAT for about two years now because admissions has gotten so competitive and there are so many students who have the requisite numbers who are competing for a handful of spots. You may have 100 people that meet a certain academic profile but there is only room for say 30 or 40 of those students. And I don’t think law schools actually work in that sort of siloed way but that is kind of how it shakes out. So the personal statement becomes the next most important item.” In some cases the personal statement can even be the factor that tips the scales for an applicant one way or the other. Boalt Hall’s Dean Tom explains, “It hasn’t been the deciding factor, but a personal statement has been known to carry the day, if you will, when applications look very, very similar on all of the other features.”

Given the pivotal role the personal statement can play in your admissions decision, let’s look specifically at how applicants should begin to pull it together. Adam Hoff, Director of Admissions Consulting at Veritas Prep says, you have to figure out your angle and give some shape to the story you will tell about yourself. “Most people who read applications will tell you the one thing they wish people did with their personal statements is just answer the question that they have. Is this person smart enough? Why does this person want to go to law school? Does this person have the discipline necessary to dig in for three years and do this? Do they know what they are getting into? Every application begs a question and the most important thing that you can do in your law school personal statement is to answer that question. So that becomes your positioning, that one key issue that you need to expand upon and develop with the statement. And so what we always encourage people to do is get whatever resources they need, do whatever assessment is necessary to figure out what that question is going to be and then build around that. So planning on the front-end is more important for this particular writing sample than arguably for any other essay or writing sample on any other type of application.”

Paul Bodine has written a book about this topic and has this to say about the first steps to writing the personal statement. “The first step in writing an essay is not really writing anything at all. It’s sort of asking yourself what is important to you, what experiences have influenced you most, what accomplishments you’re proudest of. You need to ask yourself questions like: what has my life taught me thus far about what matters most to me? What is the one thing that I want to focus the rest of my life on? What experiences have shown me that this particular activity is my passion. It doesn’t have to be the law. So it’s not so much a marketing message that they are aiming toward, initially just sort of thinking deeply about what is important to them and why. Then the next step is developing stories that capture that self reflection.”

Berkeley law student, Carissa Kranz is a good example of what Bodine means. She chose to use dance as the theme for her law school personal statement. She explains. “Dance is who I am. Ballet is who I am. I’m still dancing through law school. That was meaningful to me and that was me being true to myself and who I was. At Berkeley, I know that because I wrote about dance, I stood out to the admissions director and, on Admit Day, he remembered my personal statement and my story and since then, every time he reads a file from another ballerina, he forwards them to me. I help him recruit the ballerinas to Berkeley Law. That was just me being true to myself and picking a topic that had always been an important aspect of my life that I am passionate about and I wanted to go to a school where that would be appreciated and accepted.”

That Admissions Director was Dean Tom at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. He describes the type of personal statements that stand out. “A lot of applicants are intimidated by this part of the process because they think, ‘oh my goodness I did not climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I’ve never written a book, I haven’t won the Fulbright.’ But a lot of really fantastic personal statements come from very ordinary people who write something from their heart and they are able to write something from their heart because, for them, going to law school is a calling.”

Emory University Pre-Law Advisor, Rodia Vance says that, before writing, an applicant should think about what they want to convey to the admissions committee — their interests, their professional goals, their character traits. After applicants are clear on that, they should choose life experiences that illustrate that and how they were impacted. She explains how applicants can connect that to going to law school. “You do want to be able to express to the committee why you feel that obtaining a JD is the right next step for you and one of the ways that you can do that is to think about those experiences that you’ve had that have been the most meaningful, what they have meant to you, what you have learned from them and then how those lessons connect to your interest in pursuing a legal education.”

Dean Tom explains what the admissions committee is looking for. “All law schools are sort of like bringing together a brand new choir every year. In a regular choir, you’d want basses and altos and sopranos. In the Berkeley choir, we want 270 distinct voices and so the applicant has an opportunity here to really describe that, in addition of course to the traditional factors that go to academic potential. We’re also looking for good people, interesting people.”

Dean Morton of Vanderbilt reflects on what goes into a great personal statement. “A good personal statement really helps to demonstrate something about the individual as a prospective law student. So they are usually the product of candor and self-reflection and usually earnest engagement with the prospect of entering law school, attention to detail, effective communication skills they are really authentic expressions that help us understand the individual as a prospective student.”

Concrete examples are an important part of your personal statement. Linda Abraham, Founder and President of Accepted.com explains, “Concrete examples are critical. They are the best way to distinguish yourself from your competition and they also are memorable. They are unique to you.” Adam Hoff from Veritas Prep also encourages applicants to include concrete examples, but it depends on the story that they are telling in their personal statement. “For instance, if the major issue in your application from looking at your numbers and looking at your resume is that there is a concern that you might not have the intellectual horsepower to deliver in a tough law school environment, then you’re going to want to include very specific examples of times you did succeed in difficult intellectual environments, times where you showed critical thinking ability, the ability to think logically, to reason, to articulate your positions. And so having two or three or four very specific examples would be helpful. On the other hand, if your personal statement is more about your motivation for going to law school, how you came to this point in your life and why this makes the most sense for you, it may be more of a flowing narrative that touches on some broader themes and some bigger moments in your life where things sort of crystallized for you. You may not have as granular of details when you talk about those experiences. So it really depends on, again, your positioning for your personal statement, what your approach is going to be, what you need to convey. Most of those positions, most of those angles are going to require some specific detail. And usually you are going to work in a series of three different examples that sort of showcase that. Often they will be chronological or sort of build in the level of importance.”

The best essays convey passion says Linda Abraham at Accepted.com, “The essays that stood out and stand out, in my experience, are those that convey the genuine love or passion of the applicant. I know that a lot of times law school students take multiple topics and weave them into an essay and that can be effective but the ones that stand out in my mind are the ones that really hammered it home on the particular point.”

Dean Morton says, at Vanderbilt, admissions officers open up to the candidates. “It’s really having no expectations when you open up an application and start reading. When you do this long enough and you read enough applications, and I’ve been doing this over 20 years at three different law schools, as soon as you start to think that you’ve seen it all, you open up an application and you realize, here is something new. People are just extraordinary in the way that they approach the world, and that they engage in a way that they want to get involved and make a difference. So we see it as our job at Vanderbilt considering each application from the prospective student to try to see what the person has done with the resources and the opportunities that they’ve had because we’re looking for people that take good advantage of resources and opportunities that they have and have a positive impact on the people around them and know how to lead because those are the kind of people that will come to Vanderbilt and take advantage of the incredible opportunities that we have available here for our students.”

Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep says that admissions committees are looking for specific traits. “There’s basically five key things in a law school admissions process and the first one is intellect, the second is discipline, the third is motivation, the fourth is leadership and the fifth is collegiality. And those five things represent the whole broad expanse of what an admissions officer or a law school is looking for in a candidate.”

Applications are up at law schools around the country and there is increased competition for admission at many schools. This means the personal statement is more critical than ever now. For applicants to stand out, there are certain things that every candidate should focus on. Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep has this to say. “The question becomes: why law school? Why now? Why this school in particular? And that should be addressed in virtually every personal statement especially now with the career pipeline changing and there being uncertainty of what jobs are out there. Law schools are becoming more intentional about who they admit with regard to their career prospects, looking at the end of the process as opposed to just the beginning.”

While our experts concur on most points regarding the personal statements there are some different perspectives on whether students should customize their essays to the individual schools that they apply to. Dean Tom at Boalt Hall: “It’s a wise thing for an applicant to add something about the individual law schools that they are applying to, even if it’s just a sentence or two. It’s a reflection on how interested the applicant is, and even if you’re applying to 12 or 15 schools, you should have done some kind of research on the sorts of classes that are offered, or the problems that the faculty is interested in, or the faculty themselves or some of the opportunities available. So that you can at least seem interested in the individual law schools rather than appearing as an applicant sending out one generic statement to all law schools.”

In the end, there are some times good reasons to tailor your essays for an individual school and sometimes good reasons not to. Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep shares his perspective, “Understanding the school you are applying to first of all will change your positioning and it will establish what becomes most important to write about and what theme becomes most important. And then of course there is the obvious consideration that you should include examples of what you like about the school, what things you want to get involved in. You want to put some things in that show that you thought this through that you’ve done the research, that you either have visited or you plan on visiting. You want the school to feel like you will go there if you are admitted.”

One mistake applicants can make is using the name of the wrong school in the essay. There’s another mistake that applicants should avoid. Carissa Kranz is a third year law student at Boalt Hall and has heard about mistakes other students have made. “Spelling and grammar, undeveloped stories are a major problem.” It’s important to remember that the personal statement also serves as a sample of your writing and the admissions committee is looking for candidates with strong writing skills. Mistakes and typos don’t make a good first impression, as we hear from Dean Tom at Boalt Hall. “There are silly mistakes that, unfortunately, do harm an application and these are mistakes in spelling, grammatical errors. We admissions people worry about our applicants not being able to write well. And in law school, there are no remedial writing courses available. You have to know how to write very well before you come. And one of the ways that we judge that writing is through the personal statement. Another common mistake is that applicants forget to change the name of the law school in their computer. So we will get an application that has the name of another law school. This is not good because it really speaks to how detail oriented the applicant is and one of the things that we are looking for, of course in potential lawyers is being detailed oriented.”

Our experts also tell us to avoid some common mistakes in the content. Keep your personal statement free of clichés and avoid generalities. Linda Abraham at Accepted.com has other good advice. “Don’t turn your personal statement into a resume in prose. It’s not there to repeat everything that in the rest of the application. That’s a complete and total waste of time, it’s boring, and it’s not going to help you at all.”

Another good tip; getting too creative in your personal statement can be risky. We asked Rodia Vance from Emory how creative a candidate should be in the personal statement. “You want to remember that this is an application for a professional school and so the essay should come across that way. I would refrain from trying to do the personal statement as a poem, or as an obituary or some of these other more creative approaches that I have seen over the years. It tends not to go over well with admissions committees.” Linda Abraham has this to say about adding a creative twist to the personal statement. “Is creativity, I mean, is telling a true story creative? I think that is a great idea. Is getting kind of far out or trying to write a poem or doing a PowerPoint presentation when you have been asked for an essay, I would stay away from that.” Adam Hoff at Veritas advises, “If you are a rock star applicant competing for the very top schools against other rock star applicants, I think if being creative, clever, smart, and funny are ways to distinguish yourself, I say go for it. But if you are somebody that has major issues to address, then you just need to stick to the basics and make sure you accomplish what is out in front of you.”

That said, the tone of the essay is important and this includes whether you’re answering the exact question and whether you’re being original and authentic. Boalt Hall’s Dean Tom has read countless personal statements and weighs in on whether applicants should be creative. “Often applicants will go off on a tangent and compose a haiku or a poem or submit their applications in the form of a movie script or a poor transcript or attempt to be very humorous and I discourage these types of things. Unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld, it’s really hard to write comedy and make your personal statement very humorous.”

Candidates often wonder how to address weaknesses in the law school application, for example, a dip in the GPA or a low LSAT score, and our experts had a few different views to share on this point. Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep has this to say. “In a law school application, a low LSAT score indicates lack of intellectual horsepower so what you write your entire personal statement about is your incredible intellectual horsepower. All of the times that you’ve blown people away with how smart you are. That’s what you write about. Writing about that in an addendum just calls attention to it in a negative way and it becomes an apology or an excuse for something that isn’t perfect in your application. Very few people are going to have perfect applications. The personal statement is your opportunity to bridge the gap between reality and perfection. It’s your opportunity to say, ‘my motivation for law school is not clear so let me tell you about why I want to go to law school’ or ‘I know I wasn’t disciplined and focused in college. Here is when it all clicked for me, let me tell you about that.’”

Dean Edward Tom of Boalt Hall shared his views on how candidates can best address weaknesses, such as a low GPA or low LSAT scores. “It’s totally appropriate to attach addenda to your personal statement in which you focus on any factors that you want us to know about. Perhaps it is a history of poor standardized test taking and you want to document by providing copies of your SAT scores because you got a mediocre SAT but your GPA is a 3.9 and so you want to argue that the previous standardized tests you took was not indication in your success in college and similarly perhaps the LSAT will not be a good predictor of your success in law school. So I think addenda are the appropriate place for that sort of thing, and on the other side of personal statement, I encourage everyone to submit a resume so that way we can take care of all of your jobs, your hobby, travel, and your honors. And it doesn’t have to be a one-page resume. For us, we will gladly accept multi-page resumes and that frees up a lot of space in the personal statement. The personal statement no longer becomes a resume in narrative form. It allows applicants to stretch out a little bit and talk more about their personalities.”

We hear that the key is to coming across as genuine is to be honest in the personal statement. Dean Tom advises the following to keep it real: “If you delve too deeply into all of the template kinds of personal statements that are available on the internet or books or what not, I think that you then get your mind set that this is the way that it has to be. And if you go down that road too far then it becomes certainly unreal and it becomes unreal in a very transparent way. Just write it from your heart. It should be the best piece of writing that you’ve produced in a long time.”

Applicants need to have an authentic voice to keep their personal statement from sounding clichéd. Paul Bodine tells us this, “Basically there are two ways. Show it to people who know you, ask them whether it sounds like you or some kind of persona you’re projecting and again, second, show it to an experienced admissions consultant who has worked with multiple applicants who he knows or she knows. What about your particulars of your profile are the things that you need to focus on to stand out from the pack. Sometimes applicants can’t see that. They think something is really uninteresting when it’s really something the law school might be interested in hearing about.”

The personal statement is an important part of your application package and some student seek the help of professional admissions consultants while some do not. Carissa Kranz did not use an admissions consultant. “It may be nice to have an extra set of eyes and another mind to check your thought process and check for errors or help you narrow down schools you want to apply to. But you have to be careful because you don’t want to end up paying someone to write your paper, substantially change it and then have the consultant come through in the application and not you, yourself.”

We asked Dean Tom at UC Berkeley-Boalt Hall about applicants using consultants. He shared this: “I have seen consultants sort of take over because they feel obligated to do so at the expense of the applicant’s inner being shinning. Consultants sometimes certainly can provide some good information but if they write the personal statement or they do a lot of reworking of the personal statement then it is going to show through because we are going to be able to compare the personal statement which should be a sample of your writing not under the pressure with the writing sample on the LSAT which is a sample of writing under pressure. And if the two pieces of writing differ markedly then we know something is going on.”

There are some specific ways that admissions consultants can help with the personal statement. Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep explains the role a consultant can have in crafting a personal statement. “What a consultant can offer a client in this case, or let’s say an applicant that really no one else can offer unless they are fortunate enough to have family/friends that are law school graduates, or attorneys, or judges is, perspective on how they are going to match up with others in the applicant pool.”

Letters of recommendation run alongside the personal statement in importance. Applicants who have failed to take advantage of the opportunity to use the recommendation letter to their advantage are missing out. Here again, applicants can exercise some measure of control with their applications by choosing their recommenders carefully. Dean Morton of Vanderbilt says there is one thing in particular to keep in mind, “The key to recommendations are really not necessarily what is in them but that they are from people that know the candidate well. Because letters from people who barely know the applicant are not usually very helpful in assessing these kinds of attributes so they represent a lost opportunity.”

We spoke with Dean Tom at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall about who should write the letters of recommendation. “I think all law schools have a first choice and that would be people who have taught you at the university level, whether it’s a T.A. (teaching assistant), a G.S.I. (graduate student instructor), or a professor. Those are the very best letters because we’re looking for a third party’s candid assessment of your potential to study law. The second best source of letters will come from colleagues or internship supervisors or your supervisor in a job. Especially if they kind of in their letter talk about any kind of legal-related, writing-related, research-related activities you engaged in.”

There are certain types of letters Dean Tom does not want to see, “Letters that don’t help us, these are letters that come from relatives or your neighbor down the street who was a judge for whom you babysat when you were 13 years old. Those letters don’t, they are fine in terms of commenting on one’s character, but don’t help us as much as the other kinds.”

Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep advises applicants to give considerable thought to choosing recommenders. “The priority remains how is this person going to do in the classroom as opposed to the courtroom and that needs to be something that students are aware of when they choose who is going to write their recommendation letters. If law schools are favoring the classroom over the courtroom, then students should favor professors over bosses because it all fits with the theme of academia, of theory, of more of an esoteric approach and so we usually recommend trying to get two faculty members to do the two recommendations whenever possible, again, unless someone has been working for an extensive period of time, then you want to get someone professional to do it.”

Boalt Hall law student, Carissa Kranz has some specific ideas about the best way to get a recommender. “The recommender should know the applicant well-enough to speak about their character, their work product, their work ethic, their discipline and their potential. The relationship with the recommender should probably be a natural progression. An applicant should not just suck up to someone for a letter of recommendation. The applicant should be really organized in asking the recommender to write them a letter of recommendation because the way an applicant goes about the process of asking for a letter of recommendation and providing their recommender with the proper materials to write that good letter of recommendation says a lot about the applicant and that will definitely come through in any letter that the recommender writes.”

There are mistakes to avoid in choosing your recommenders. Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep: “The biggest mistake that people make is they go for title over the relationship.” Applicants should not wait until the last minute and should make sure to give the people who will write their letters of recommendation ample time to complete the letter in a timely manner. Rodia Vance advises the following: “You want to ideally give your recommenders at least four to six weeks to write their letters depending on their schedules. Faculty members tend to be a little bit busier in the fall than other folks are so you definitely want to make sure that you have given them enough time to write their letters and remember that you’re not the only person for whom they are writing a letter. So you want to make sure that you respect their time and not ask them at the last minute to write a letter for you. Ideally, this is a person with whom you have worked closely enough that they can write a very detailed letter and talk specifically about the quality of your work and that goes for whether it’s a faculty member or a professional colleague or employer.”

Applicants are sometimes uncertain about the best way to approach the question of whether a recommender can write a great letter. Author Paul Bodine offers some useful tips for this. “Ask them up front, say something like ‘law school is important to me, I really need enthusiastic letter. Are you comfortable writing a really strong, detailed and enthusiastic letter for me?’ And then you need to gauge their response.” There are ways that applicants can help prepare the recommender once they have agreed to write on your behalf and Accepted’s Linda Abraham gives us some help on this. “They should give the recommender a couple of months notice and they should come to the recommender with a resume, with any kind of documentation that the recommender is going to need. If it’s an online recommendation form, then the URL for that recommendation, the questions the recommender is going to be responding to, anything that can possibly help the recommender. The student presumably will have researched the school and will have some idea of why he or she is applying to the school and that should not be just the ranking. It should be something within the program and the philosophy of the school and then the student should also give the recommender a brief synopsis of both reasons to applying for that particular program and highlighting their interactions and the student’s achievements.”

Many schools prefer applicants to send their letters of recommendations to the LSAC’s credential assembly service. Dean Tom explains what is behind Berkeley’s preference that applicants use LSAC. “In the olden days, all applicants would send their individual letters to the individual admission offices and so we were inundated by thousands and thousands of envelopes to open. Now all the applicant has to do is send one letter to the credentials evaluation service in Newtown, the same people who put on the LSAT, and they will copy the letters and send them off to the law schools in one package and a lot of the stuff is becoming electronic now so there are a lot of law schools that are converting to a paperless office where all of the information is coming to us via computer.”

And at Vanderbilt, Dean Morton suggested using LSDAS. “We’re getting about 5,000 applications a year for 190 spots in our entering class and to really give every application the attention that it deserves, any amount of time that we can save on processing and paperwork really helps us to devote the attention where it is best used for thinking about prospective students and the letter of recommendation service really helps in that regard in the sense that we just get the entire application from the LSDAS report, including letters of recommendation, all in one package and it saves us a lot of time on this end. Occasionally there are recommenders who will write different letters for a particular person, they will write different letters to different schools that they are applying to because they have something fairly refined that they want to say to individual schools and LSDAS letter of recommendation service does have the opportunity for recommenders to target a particular letter to a particular school or to make it a general use letter. But we do want recommenders to know that they have the opportunity to write to us directly. And that is really for their comfort, an opportunity for them to know that rather than sending a general letter off to a general service, they can speak directly if that is what they prefer to do.”

Our experts give applicants some final thoughts and advice in crafting their essays. Pre-Law Advisor, Rodia Vance shares this, “Don’t be afraid to start over. If you’re working on something and it just doesn’t feel right anymore, you know, allow yourself the ability to say, ‘this is not it let me start again.’ You don’t have to write the perfect essay on the very first draft.”

Boalt Hall law student, Carissa Kranz talks about clicking with Dean Edward Tom of the application committee and explains how that worked for her, “I wrote about the arts, that’s who I am and that came through and that struck a chord with him. So that’s why I think that it is important for people to be themselves and if you’re yourself you can’t go wrong. You don’t want to portray yourself as someone else and get accepted to a place and then not fit in. It’s just better to be yourself and be accepted as yourself and life is so much easier that way.”

Once you have gathered all of the documents and written your personal statement, Adam Hoff at Veritas Prep says, it is the perfect time to decide if law school is really what you want. He explains, “It’s the perfect time to take a step back and make sure it’s still what you want to do. And it might represent the last time where you can really see the forest through the trees and understand whether this is the direction that you want to take. The last thing that the world needs are unhappy lawyers or people who feel like they took the wrong path. Law school can be expensive; it can be something that is three years of your life. It’s important that you think it through.”

Law school applicants have an excellent opportunity to present themselves in the very best light in their personal statement, supporting that image with a couple of letters from well chosen and well prepared recommenders. Be honest and without guile. No haiku or essays in the form of screen plays or briefs. Your personal story should reveal your individual personality to the admissions committee and our experts tell us the admissions folks have seen and heard it all. Remember Carissa Kranz’s essay relating her ballet to the law. Make your personal statement error free and vibrant, rich with personal stories and secure your letters of recommendations from the professors and employers whom you are confident know you best.

For more information, a transcript of this show, or to sign up to receive more law school podcasts, visit http://lawschoolpodcaster.com/. Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.

Comments are closed.